Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology

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About the employer

The Max Planck In­sti­tute for Mar­ine Mi­cro­bi­o­logy (MPIMM) was foun­ded in 1992 in the State of Bre­men and is part of the cam­pus of the Uni­versity of Bre­men. It be­longs to the Bio­logy & Med­ical Sec­tion of the Max Planck So­ci­ety. The main fo­cus of our re­search is on the di­versity and func­tions of mar­ine mi­croor­gan­isms and their in­ter­ac­tions with the mar­ine en­vir­on­ment. Start­ing from the be­gin­ning on re­search­ers at the MPIMM took part in in­ter­na­tional ex­ped­i­tions world­wide. They are in­ter­na­tion­ally re­cog­nized for their ex­pert­ise in mar­ine mi­cro­bi­o­logy and for the ana­lysis of pro­cesses. These strong suc­cess­ful ef­forts are re­war­ded by many pub­lic­a­tions in top sci­entific journ­als.

Why marine Microbiology?

Dur­ing two thirds of earth’s his­tory, mi­croor­gan­isms dom­in­ated our planet and de­veloped com­plex bi­ota in the oceans and in­land wa­ters. In the course of nearly four bil­lion years of evol­u­tion­ary his­tory, proka­ryotic or­gan­isms, i.e. bac­teria und ar­chaea, have de­veloped a great meta­bolic di­versity.
To this day, mi­croor­gan­isms are primar­ily re­spons­ible for cata­lys­ing di­verse de­com­pos­i­tion pro­cesses of or­ganic und in­or­ganic sub­stances. They play a key role in con­trolling global ele­ment cycles and thereby help to keep our planet in­hab­it­able. They also en­sure that al­most all waste products are de­com­posed and re­cycled in the oceans, so that toxic com­pounds do not ac­cu­mu­late and en­danger fauna or flora.

Al­though mar­ine mi­cro­bi­o­logy is not a new field of re­search, we still have very in­com­plete know­ledge about mar­ine mi­croor­gan­isms and their func­tional im­port­ance. Only about one per­cent of all spe­cies of mi­croor­gan­isms are known today, and new spe­cies with new cap­ab­il­it­ies con­tinue to be dis­covered. Ex­amples of such dis­cov­er­ies in­clude the sym­bi­osis between ar­chaea and bac­teria that de­com­pose the green­house gas meth­ane deep down in the ocean floor with the help of sulph­ate. This key pro­cess in the global car­bon cycle has long been known, but the mi­croor­gan­isms in­volved were only re­cently iden­ti­fied. An­other ex­ample is the an­aer­obic am­monium ox­id­a­tion (anam­mox) with ni­trite or ni­trate - a newly dis­covered pro­cess that may con­sti­tute the most im­port­ant ni­tro­gen sink in the oceanic ni­tro­gen cycle. The anam­mox mi­croor­gan­isms re­spons­ible for this pro­cess were first dis­covered in an in­dus­trial waste treat­ment plant in the early 1990s. The suc­cess­ful search for bac­teria with sim­ilar meta­bolic po­ten­tial in the ocean has ba­sic­ally changed our un­der­stand­ing of the mar­ine ni­tro­gen bal­ance.

These ex­amples show how field re­search on mar­ine pro­cesses and labor­at­ory re­search on mi­croor­gan­isms com­bine to ad­vance our know­ledge of ele­ment cycles and the con­di­tions for life. At the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Mar­ine Mi­cro­bi­o­logy, mi­cro­bi­o­lo­gists, mo­lecu­lar bio­lo­gists and biogeo­chem­ists work to­gether to un­der­stand ba­sic prin­ciples of mar­ine mi­cro­bial eco­logy. Our fo­cus is on the an­aer­obic (oxy­gen-free) world be­low the sed­i­ment sur­face, be­cause this is where many in­ter­est­ing and hitherto un­known life forms ex­ist that play a cru­cial role for the coup­ling of ele­ment cycles – and hence for the chem­istry of the oceans. The re­search­ers at the in­sti­tute cover a broad range of dis­cip­lines and areas of ex­pert­ise, from mi­cro­sensors to mi­cro­bi­o­logy, from geo­chem­istry to gen­ome ana­lysis, and from mo­lecu­lar eco­logy to math­em­at­ical mod­el­ling.

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