• Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science

  • CUBE - Computational Systems Biology

  • DOME - Microbial Ecology

  • EDGE - Environmental Geosciences

  • TER - Terrestrial Ecosystem Research


  • Environmental and Climate Research Hub


    The Environment and Climate Research Hub (ECH), led by Thilo Hofmann from EDGE and Sabine Pahl, just launched its new website!

    Addressing the urgent triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution requires input from all fields of research, ...

  • Women in Science 2024 @ CeMESS


    To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11th), CeMESS is once again shining the spotlight on our remarkable female staff and researchers. And we're not alone - this year, many of the University of Vienna's STEM Faculties ...

  • Congratulations Dr. Dennis Metze


    Congratulations to Dr. Dennis André Metze, who successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled "Who’s active in future soils? Unraveling the growth response of bacterial taxa under climate change" on February 2nd, 2024. The board of examiners comprised Jennifer Pett-Ridge (Lawrence ...

  • Inaugural "AI for Life Sciences" Hackathon seeks solutions to soil health


    The first "AI for Life Sciences" hackathon, hosted by Vienna-based software company Gradient Zero in collaboration with David Berry from DOME. This virtual coding competition aimed to integrate artificial intelligence in life sciences, specifically focusing on soil health.

    The event, ...

Latest publications

An integrated approach to testing and assessment (IATA) to support grouping and read-across of nanomaterials in aquatic systems

Even small changes in physicochemical properties of nanoforms (NFs), can drive differences in their environmental fate and hazard. The large number of new materials being developed means it will not be feasible to test and characterise the fate, behaviour and (eco)toxicity of each individual NF. This is further amplified by transformations of NFs over their lifecycle, changing the processes governing their risk. A common complexity arises from dissolution, where the combined toxicity of the exposure arises from both the solutes and any remaining particles contribution to the overall toxicity of the exposure. For efficient and effective risk assessment, it is the most relevant form of the NF for a given exposure that should be targeted for testing and assessment. In aquatic systems, functional fate processes (including dissolution, dispersion stability and chemical and biological transformations) determine the NF’s exposure relevant form. Whilst transformations in the environment alter the initial properties of an NF, different NFs may follow a shared functional fate pathway and ultimately present a similar fate and hazard profile in the environment. Therefore, these processes may be used to scientifically justify grouping NFs and read-across for specific endpoints from data rich NF(s) to verified members of the group that have not been tested yet. Integrated Approaches to Testing and Assessment (IATA) have been used in other regulatory contexts to support the collection and integration of relevant existing information as well as the targeted generation of new data to support grouping and read-across. Here, a new IATA is presented consisting of decision nodes focused on dissolution, dispersion stability, chemical transformations and the relative contribution to toxicity of the particle and dissolved component of the overall exposure. The IATA focuses on the fate of NFs in aquatic systems outside of the body, but it can be considered a template for future assessment of in vivo kinetics, which will require further development. Guidance on tiered testing approaches and thresholds for grouping within each decision node are critically discussed. Worked examples for ecotoxicity of metal oxide NFs in aqueous systems (in microbial communities isolated from soils and for lettuce plants in hydroponic systems) demonstrate successful identification of the exposure relevant form of the NF in these case studies and allows for different grouping of NFs through application of the IATA.

Richard K. Cross, Dave Spurgeon, Claus Svendsen, Elma Lahive, Simon Little, Frank von der Kammer, Frédéric Loosli, Marianne Matzke, Teresa F. Fernandes, Vicki Stone, Willie J.G.M. Peijnenburg, Eric A.J. Bleeker
2024 - Nano Today, 54: 102065

The efficacy of Pb, As(V) and Sb(III ) removal by biochar is determined by solution chemistry

Biochars (BC) are cost-effective and sustainable sorbents to clean up waters polluted with metal(loid)s. Understanding the influence of water chemistry is critical in identifying processes that limit metal(loid) removal. To address this, we investigated the removal of lead [Pb], arsenate [As(V)], and antimonite [Sb(III)] using BC in the presence of various solution constituents. A design of experiments approach was used to investigate sorption for each metal(loid)-BC setup (Pb with a straw BC, As(V) with charred wood-dolomite and Sb(III) with a steam-activated wood BC) with twenty-five different background solutions varying in calcium (Ca), natural organic matter (NOM), phosphorus (P), and iron [Fe(III)] content. Background solution composition affected removal of Pb (29 to 100%) more strongly than that of As(V) (37 to 92%) and Sb(III) (20 to 70%), with the selected BC at the metal(loid) concentrations studied. Pb removal was associated with Fe(III)–NOM–Ca organo-mineral phases for solutions containing Fe(III), NOM and Ca. As(V) sorption was enhanced by Ca due to cation-bridging and reducing the competition for sorption sites by NOM and P in high NOM and/or P containing solutions. Sb(III) sorption was hindered by oxidation to Sb(V) through redox active moieties in the BC in all solutions. Sb(III) removal decreased in the presence of high Fe(III), because Fe(III)/Fe(III)–NOM phases blocked accessibility to sorption sites in the highly porous BC, and/or due to enhanced oxidation of Sb(III) to the more mobile (but less toxic) Sb(V). Ideally, the design of BC sorbents for the removal of metal(loid)s from contaminated waters should a priori consider complex solution compositions.

Sampriti Chaudhuri, Gabriel Sigmund, Naresh Kumar, Thorsten Hüffer, Andreas Mautner, Thilo Hofmann
2024 - Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, in press

The maternal microbiome in pregnancy, delivery, and early-stage development of neonatal microbiome after cesarean section: A prospective longitudinal study


Changes within the maternal microbiome during the last trimester of pregnancy and the determinants of the subsequent neonatal microbiome establishment after delivery by elective cesarean section are described.

Material and methods

Maternal vaginal and rectal microbiome samples were collected in the last trimester and before cesarean section; intrauterine cavity, placenta, neonatal buccal mucosa, skin, and meconium samples were obtained at birth; neonatal sample collection was repeated 2–3 days postnatally. Microbial community composition was analyzed by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Relative abundance measurements of amplicon sequencing variants and sum counts at higher taxonomic levels were compared to test for significant overlap or differences in microbial community compositions. ID: NCT04489056.


A total of 30 mothers and their neonates were included with available microbiome samples for all maternal, intrauterine cavity and placenta samples, as well as for 18 of 30 neonates. The composition of maternal vaginal and rectal microbiomes during the last trimester of healthy pregnancies did not significantly change (permutational multivariate analysis of variance [PERMANOVA], p > 0.05). No robust microbial signature was detected in the intrauterine cavity, placenta, neonatal buccal mucosa, skin swabs, or meconium samples collected at birth. After birth, the neonatal microbiome was rapidly established, and significantly different microbial communities were detectable 2–3 days postnatally in neonate buccal mucosa and stool samples (PERMANOVA, p < 0.01).


Maternal vaginal and rectal microbiomes in healthy pregnancies remain stable during the third trimester. No microbial colonization of the neonate was observed before birth in healthy pregnancies. Neonatal microbiomes in infants delivered by cesarean section displayed a taxonomic composition distinct from maternal vaginal and rectal microbiomes at birth, indicating that postnatal exposure to the extrauterine environment is the driving source of initial neonatal microbiome development in this cohort.

Foessleitner P, Pjevac P, Granser S, Wisgrill L, Pummer L, Eckel F, Seki D, Berry D, Hausmann B, Farr A
2024 - AOGS, in press