• Our new home

    since summer 2021.

  • Hunting for microbes since 2003

  • We seek to understand

    the role of microorganisms in Earth's nutrient cycles

    and as symbionts of other organisms

  • Cycling of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur

    affect the health of our planet

  • The human microbiome -

    Our own social network of microbial friends

  • Ancient invaders -

    Bacterial symbionts of amoebae

    and the evolution of the intracellular lifestyle

  • Marine symbioses:

    Listening in on conversations

    between animals and the microbes they can't live without

  • Single cell techniques offer new insights

    into the ecology of microbes

  • Doctoral School in Microbiology and Environmental Sciences

  • PhD program in Microbial Symbioses

    A special FWF funded track in our doctoral school

Dome News

Latest publications

Bacterial growth in multicellular aggregates leads to the emergence of complex life cycles.

Facultative multicellular behaviors expand the metabolic capacity and physiological resilience of bacteria. Despite their ubiquity in nature, we lack an understanding of how these behaviors emerge from cellular-scale phenomena. Here, we show how the coupling between growth and resource gradient formation leads to the emergence of multicellular lifecycles in a marine bacterium. Under otherwise carbon-limited growth conditions, Vibrio splendidus 12B01 forms clonal multicellular groups to collectively harvest carbon from soluble polymers of the brown-algal polysaccharide alginate. As they grow, groups phenotypically differentiate into two spatially distinct sub-populations: a static "shell" surrounding a motile, carbon-storing "core." Differentiation of these two sub-populations coincides with the formation of a gradient in nitrogen-source availability within clusters. Additionally, we find that populations of cells containing a high proportion of carbon-storing individuals propagate and form new clusters more readily on alginate than do populations with few carbon-storing cells. Together, these results suggest that local metabolic activity and differential partitioning of resources leads to the emergence of reproductive cycles in a facultatively multicellular bacterium.

Schwartzman JA, Ebrahimi A, Chadwick G, Sato Y, Roller BRK, Orphan VJ, Cordero OX
2022 - Curr Biol, In press

A nitrite-oxidising bacterium constitutively consumes atmospheric hydrogen

Chemolithoautotrophic nitrite-oxidising bacteria (NOB) of the genus Nitrospira contribute to nitrification in diverse natural environments and engineered systems. Nitrospira are thought to be well-adapted to substrate limitation owing to their high affinity for nitrite and capacity to use alternative energy sources. Here, we demonstrate that the canonical nitrite oxidiser Nitrospira moscoviensis oxidises hydrogen (H2) below atmospheric levels using a high-affinity group 2a nickel-iron hydrogenase [Km(app) = 32 nM]. Atmospheric H2 oxidation occurred under both nitrite-replete and nitrite-deplete conditions, suggesting low-potential electrons derived from H2 oxidation promote nitrite-dependent growth and enable survival during nitrite limitation. Proteomic analyses confirmed the hydrogenase was abundant under both conditions and indicated extensive metabolic changes occur to reduce energy expenditure and growth under nitrite-deplete conditions. Thermodynamic modelling revealed that H2 oxidation theoretically generates higher power yield than nitrite oxidation at low substrate concentrations and significantly contributes to growth at elevated nitrite concentrations. Collectively, this study suggests atmospheric H2 oxidation enhances the growth and survival of NOB amid variability of nitrite supply, extends the phenomenon of atmospheric H2 oxidation to an eighth phylum (Nitrospirota), and reveals unexpected new links between the global hydrogen and nitrogen cycles. Long classified as obligate nitrite oxidisers, our findings suggest H2 may primarily support growth and survival of certain NOB in natural environments.

Leung PM, Daebeler A, Chiri E, Hanchapola I, Gillett DL, Schittenhelm RB, Daims H, Greening C
2022 - ISME J, in press

Human follicular mites: Ectoparasites becoming symbionts

Most humans carry mites in the hair follicles of their skin for their entire lives. Follicular mites are the only metazoans that continuously live on humans. We propose that Demodex folliculorum (Acari) represents a transitional stage from a host-injuring obligate parasite to an obligate symbiont. Here, we describe the profound impact of this transition on the genome and physiology of the mite. Genome sequencing revealed that the permanent host association of D. folliculorum led to an extensive genome reduction through relaxed selection and genetic drift, resulting in the smallest number of protein-coding genes yet identified among panarthropods. Confocal microscopy revealed that this gene loss coincided with an extreme reduction in the number of cells. Single uninucleate muscle cells are sufficient to operate each of the three segments that form each walking leg. While it has been assumed that the reduction of the cell number in parasites starts early in development, we identified a greater total number of cells in the last developmental stage (nymph) than in the terminal adult stage, suggesting that reduction starts at the adult or ultimate stage of development. This is the first evolutionary step in an arthropod species adopting a reductive, parasitic, or endosymbiotic lifestyle. Somatic nuclei show under-replication at the diploid stage. Novel eye structures or photoreceptors as well as a unique human host melatonin-guided day/night rhythm are proposed for the first time. The loss of DNA repair genes coupled with extreme endogamy might have set this mite species on an evolutionary dead-end trajectory.

Smith G, Manzano-Marín A, Reyes-Prieto M, Ribeiro Antunes CS, Ashworth V, Goselle ON, Jan AAA, Moya A, Latorre A, Perotti MA, Braig HR
2022 - Mol Biol Evol, 39: msac125

Lecture series

DOME Lecture: “'Dark oxygen' - an electron acceptor for productive and diverse microbial communities in ancient groundwaters"

Emil Ruff
Marine Biological Laboratory, Massachusetts, USA
12:00 h
hybrid, UBB HS 2

DOME Lecture: "Creating a “niche” and making the most of it: Bacteria – insect interactions in a mutualistic endosymbiosis"

Anna Zaidman-Remy
Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, Lyon, France
12:00 h
hybrid, UBB HS 2

DOME Lecture: "A physical niche regulates a complex microbiome in the Drosophila gut"

William Ludington
Department of Embryology, Carnegie Institution of Science, Maryland, USA
14:00 h