Profile photo Rob Willems

Rob Willems

Full Professor

Strategic program(s):


Prof. dr. Rob Willems studied biology at the Free University in Amsterdam and acquired his PhD from the Utrecht University in 1993 on “Genetic and functional studies on Bordetella pertussis fimbriae”. After postdoc positions at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University and at the Department of Infectious Diseases of the University Hospital, Leiden he became research scientist and section head at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in 1996. In 2003 he moved from the RIVM to the University Medical Center Utrecht where he became assistant professor. In 2008 he was appointed associate professor and since December 1st 2016, he is full professor of Population Genetics of Antibiotic Resistance at the department of Medical Microbiology of the University Medical Center Utrecht. Since 1997, he has set up and been involved in various national and international studies on antibiotic resistance. From 2007-2011 he coordinated an EC FP6 project on Approaches to Control multi-resistant Enterococci (ACE) and from 2011-2015 he was principal investigator and coordinator of the EC FP7 project designated Evolution and Transmission of Antibiotic Resistance (EvoTAR). His research group aims to unravel the genetic evolution, population and functional genomics of Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis as well as E. faecium host-pathogen interactions. His group was the first that identified structure in the E. faecium population and described that strains from hospitalized patients were genetically distinct from animal isolates and human commensal isolates. He also published the first comparative genomics paper on E. faecium using comparative genomic hybridizations as well as whole genome sequencing that revealed that E. faecium has an open genome capable for frequently incorporating new DNA in its genome. Currently, his group is focussing on genome based epidemiology of multidrug-resistant pathogens, with a special focus reconstructing and tracking the spread of plasmids based on genome and metagenome sequence data. Furthermore, his group aims to decipher the processes and molecular mechanisms that contribute to colonization resistance against high density colonization of antibiotic-resistant Enterobacteriaceae and enterococci and the consequences of intestinal outgrowth of these multidrig resistant opportunistic pathogens on pathogen-host cross-talk. Finally, his group performs microbiome-based analysis to decipher the role of the microbiome in health and disease. Dr. Willems has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters.

Recent publications

Metagenomic assembly is the main bottleneck in the identification of mobile genetic elements Jesse J Kerkvliet, Alex Bossers, Jannigje G Kers, Rodrigo Meneses, Rob Willems, Anita C Schürch
PeerJ, 2024, vol. 12, p.e16695
PlasmidEC and gplas2: an optimized short-read approach to predict and reconstruct antibiotic resistance plasmids in Escherichia coli. Julian A Paganini, Jesse J Kerkvliet, Lisa Vader, Nienke L Plantinga, Rodrigo Meneses, Jukka Corander, Rob J L Willems, Sergio Arredondo-Alonso, Anita C Schürch
Microbial genomics, 2024, vol. 10
Colonization of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium in human-derived colonic epithelium Paul B. Stege, Jeffrey M. Beekman, Antoni P.A. Hendrickx, Laura Van Eijk, Malbert R.C. Rogers, Sylvia W.F. Suen, Annelotte M. Vonk, Rob J.L. Willems, Fernanda L. Paganelli
FEMS Microbes, 2024, vol. 5
The population-level impact of Enterococcus faecalis genetics on intestinal colonization and extraintestinal infection Chrispin Chaguza, Anna K. Pöntinen, Janetta Top, Sergio Arredondo-Alonso, Ana R. Freitas, Carla Novais, Carmen Torres, Stephen D. Bentley, Luisa Peixe, Teresa M. Coque, Rob J.L. Willems, Jukka Corander
Microbiology spectrum, 2023, vol. 11
Enterococcus spp. from chicken meat collected 20 years apart overcome multiple stresses occurring in the poultry production chain Andreia Rebelo, Bárbara Duarte, Carolina Ferreira, Joana Mourão, Sofia Ribeiro, Ana R. Freitas, Teresa M. Coque, Rob Willems, Jukka Corander, Luísa Peixe, Patrícia Antunes, Carla Novais
International Journal of Food Microbiology, 2023, vol. 384
Gut Colonization by ESBL-Producing Escherichia coli in Dogs Is Associated with a Distinct Microbiome and Resistome Composition Paul B. Stege, Joost Hordijk, Arnar K.S. Sandholt, Aldert L. Zomer, Marco C. Viveen, Malbert R.C. Rogers, Moniek Salomons, Jaap A. Wagenaar, Lapo Mughini-Gras, Rob J.L. Willems, Fernanda L. Paganelli
Microbiology spectrum, 2023, vol. 11, p.1-14

Fellowships & Awards

2005: 2nd International ASM-FEMS Conference on Enterococci

External positions