• CUBE - Computational Systems Biology

  • DOME - Microbial Ecology

  • TER - Terrestrial Ecosystem Research


Latest publications

Microbiomes In Natura: Importance of Invertebrates in Understanding the Natural Variety of Animal-Microbe Interactions

Animals evolved in a world teeming with microbes, which play pivotal roles in their health, development, and evolution. Although the overwhelming majority of living animals are invertebrates, the minority of “microbiome” studies focus on this group. Interest in invertebrate-microbe interactions is 2-fold—a range of immune components are conserved across almost all animal (including human) life, and their functional roles may be conserved. Thus, understanding cross talk between microbes and invertebrate animals can lead to insights of broader relevance. Invertebrates offer unique opportunities to “eavesdrop” on intricate host-microbe conversations because they tend to associate with fewer microbes. On the other hand, considering the vast diversity of form and function that has evolved in the invertebrates, they likely evolved an equally diverse range of ways to interact with beneficial microbes. We have investigated only a few of these interactions in detail; thus, there is still great potential for fundamentally new discoveries.

Petersen JM, Osvatic J
2018 - mSystems, in press


In this infographic, the key metabolic functions of Nitrospira and the role that these bacteria play in nitrification and other processes in the environment is shown. Nitrospira plays pivotal roles in nitrification as an aerobic chemolithoautotrophic nitrite-oxidizing bacterium. These bacteria often occur in close association with ammonia-oxidizing bacteria or archaea that convert ammonia to nitrite, which is further oxidized to nitrate by Nitrospira. However, in 'reciprocal feeding' interactions, Nitrospira can also provide ammonia oxidizers with ammonia released from urea or cyanate, which is further nitrified as described above. Recently discovered Nitrospira members even catalyze both nitrification steps alone and are therefore called complete ammonia oxidizers or 'comammox' organisms. Some strains of Nitrospira utilize alternative substrates, such as Hand formate, using oxygen or nitrate as terminal electron acceptor, and can exploit these energy sources concurrently with aerobic nitrite oxidation. This metabolic versatility enables Nitrospira to colonize a broad range of habitats and to sustain shifts in environmental conditions such as changing oxygen concentrations.

Daims H, Wagner M
2018 - Trends Microbiol., in press

Fate of carbohydrates and lignin in north-east Siberian permafrost soils

Permafrost soils preserve huge amounts of organic carbon (OC) prone to decomposition under changing climatic conditions. However, knowledge on the composition of soil organic matter (OM) and its transformation and vulnerability to decomposition in these soils is scarce. We determined neutral sugars and lignin-derived phenols, released by trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) and CuO oxidation, respectively, within plants and soil density fractions from the active layer and the upper permafrost layer at three different tundra types (shrubby grass, shrubby tussock, shrubby lichen) in the Northeast Siberian Arctic. The heavy fraction (HF; > 1.6 g mL−1 ) was characterized by a larger enrichment of microbial sugars (hexoses vs. pentoses) and more pronounced lignin degradation (acids vs. aldehydes) as compared to the light fraction (LF; < 1.6 g mL−1 ), showing the transformation from plant residue-dominated particulate OM to a largely microbial imprint in mineral-associated OM. In contrast to temperate and tropical soils, total neutral sugar contents and galactose plus mannose to arabinose plus xylose ratios (GM/AX) decreased in the HF with soil depth, which may indicate a process of effective recycling of microbial biomass rather than utilizing old plant materials. At the same time, lignin-derived phenols increased and the degree of oxidative decomposition of lignin decreased with soil depth, suggesting a selective preservation of lignin presumably due to anaerobiosis. As large parts of the plant-derived pentoses are incorporated in lignocelluloses and thereby protected against rapid decomposition, this might also explain the relative enrichment of pentoses with soil depth. Hence, our results show a relatively large contribution of plantderived OM, particularly in the buried topsoil and subsoil, which is stabilized by the current soil environmental conditions but may become available to decomposers if permafrost degradation promotes soil drainage and improves the soil oxygen supply.

Dao TT, Gentsch N, Mikutta R, Sauheitl L, Shibistova O, Wild B, Schnecker J, Barta J, Capek P, Gittel A, Lashchinskiy N, Urich T, Santruckova H, Richter A, Guggenberger G
2018 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 116: 311-322