• CUBE - Computational Systems Biology

  • DOME - Microbial Ecology

  • TER - Terrestrial Ecosystem Research


Latest publications

Combination of techniques to quantify the distribution of bacteria in theirsoil microhabitats at different spatial scales

To address a number of issues of great societal concern at the moment, like the sequestration of carbon, information is direly needed about interactions between soil architecture and microbial dynamics. Unfortunately, soils are extremely complex, heterogeneous systems comprising highly variable and dynamic micro-habitats that have significant impacts on the growth and activity of inhabiting microbiota. Data remain scarce on the influence of soil physical parameters characterizing the pore space on the distribution and diversity of bacteria. In this context, the objective of the research described in this article was to develop a method where X-ray microtomography, to characterize the soil architecture, is combined with fluorescence microscopy to visualize and quantify bacterial distributions in resin-impregnated soil sections. The influence of pore geometry (at a resolution of 13.4 μm) on the distribution of Pseudomonas fluorescens was analysed at macro- (5.2 mm × 5.2 mm), meso- (1 mm × 1 mm) and microscales (0.2 mm × 0.2 mm) based on an experimental setup simulating different soil architectures. The cell density of P. fluorescenswas 5.59 x 107(SE 2.6 x 106) cells g−1 soil in 1–2 mm and 5.84 x 107(SE 2.4 x 106) cells g−1 in 2–4 mm size aggregates soil. Solid-pore interfaces influenced bacterial distribution at micro- and macroscale, whereas the effect of soil porosity on bacterial distribution varied according to three observation scales in different soil architectures. The influence of soil porosity on the distribution of bacteria in different soil architectures was observed mainly at the macroscale, relative to micro- and mesoscales. Experimental data suggest that the effect of pore geometry on the distribution of bacteria varied with the spatial scale, thus highlighting the need to consider an “appropriate spatial scale” to understand the factors that regulate the distribution of microbial communities in soils. The results obtained to date also indicate that the proposed method is a significant step towards a full mechanistic understanding of microbial dynamics in structured soils.

Juyal A, Otten W, Falconer R, Hapca S, Schmidt H, Baveye PC, Eickhorst T
2019 - Geoderma, 334: 165-174

Biodegradation of synthetic polymers in soils: Tracking carbon into CO2 and microbial biomass

Plastic materials are widely used in agricultural applications to achieve food security for the growing world population. The use of biodegradable instead of nonbiodegradable polymers in single-use agricultural applications, including plastic mulching, promises to reduce plastic accumulation in the environment. We present a novel approach that allows tracking of carbon from biodegradable polymers into CO2 and microbial biomass. The approach is based on 13C-labeled polymers and on isotope-specific analytical methods, including nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS). Our results unequivocally demonstrate the biodegradability of poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT), an important polyester used in agriculture, in soil. Carbon from each monomer unit of PBAT was used by soil microorganisms, including filamentous fungi, to gain energy and to form biomass. This work advances both our conceptual understanding of polymer biodegradation and the methodological capabilities to assess this process in natural and engineered environments.

Zumstein MT, Schintlmeister A, Nelson TF, Baumgartner R, Woebken D, Wagner M, Kohler H-PE, McNeill K, Sander M
2018 - Science Advances, 4: eaas9024

Ammonia monooxygenase-mediated cometabolic biotransformation and hydroxylamine-mediated abiotic transformation of micropollutants in an AOB/NOB co-culture

Biotransformation of various micropollutants (MPs) has been found to be positively correlated with nitrification in activated sludge communities. To further elucidate the roles played by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), we investigated the biotransformation capabilities of an NOB pure culture (Nitrobacter sp.), and an AOB (Nitrosomonas europaea) / NOB (Nitrobacter sp.) co-culture for fifteen MPs, whose biotransformation were reported previously to be associated with nitrification. The NOB pure culture did not biotransform any investigated MP, whereas the AOB/NOB co-culture was capable of biotransforming asulam, and five other MPs. Two transformation products (TPs) of asulam were identified and tentative structures were proposed. Inhibition studies with octyne, an ammonia monooxygenase (AMO) inhibitor, suggested that AMO was the responsible enzyme for asulam transformation that occurred co-metabolically. Interestingly, hydroxylamine, a key intermediate of all aerobic ammonia oxidizers, was found to react with several MPs at concentrations typically occurring in AOB batch cultures. All of these MPs were also biotransformed by the AOB/NOB co-culture. Moreover, the same asulam TPs were detected in both biotransformation and hydroxylamine-treated abiotic transformation experiments. Thus, in addition to cometabolism likely carried out by AMO, an abiotic transformation route indirectly mediated by AMO might also contribute to MP biotransformation by AOB. 

Yu Y, Han P, Zhou L-J, Li Z, Wagner M, Men Y
2018 - Environ Sci Technol, in press