Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology

Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology

The mission of the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology is to understand the function, communication and interaction of microorganisms with their environment, to describe them with the aid of mathematical models and to modify them in a targeted manner using synthetic-biological approaches. What processes underlie their enormously diverse metabolic performances in the global biogeochemical cycles? What relevant natural products do they form? How are they able to adapt to environmental changes? What mechanisms underlie the cell cycle and cell polarity of microbial organisms? How do microbes interact with each other and with other organisms such as plants and animals? How can their metabolic properties be specifically modified and used to address current challenges, such as global warming, or the antibiotic crisis? The Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology addresses these and other questions through comprehensive basic research, from the atomic level to the ecosystem.


Karl-von-Frisch-Str. 10
35043 Marburg
Phone: +49 6421 178-0
Fax: +49 6421 178-999

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS on Principles of Microbial Life

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Natural compounds in organismal interactions


Department Biochemistry and Synthetic Metabolism


Genetic analyses show how the metabolic capacities of symbiotic bacteria in the gut of termites have changed over the course of evolution


Researchers discover structure in microbial communities of swimmers and non-swimmers


Researchers developed a new variant of the fast-growing bacterium Vibrio natriegens


Scientists found for the first time a natural protein that follows a mathematical pattern of self-similarity


Researchers gain new insights into how the first cells on Earth were able to use hydrogen gas as an energy source

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It is not uncommon for a scientist to hang up their lab coat and become a journalist. Martina Preiner did it the other way around. After a career as a science journalist, she switched sides again in her early thirties and returned to the laboratory. The reason for her change of heart was a fascination with the origin of life.

Every living creature has to gather materials from the environment and convert them into the materials it needs to live. Without metabolism, there would be no life on Earth. Tobias Erb, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, wants to reprogram metabolic pathways so that raw materials can be produced more sparingly and efficiently. His latest coup? A metabolic cycle driven by electrical energy.

Metabolism 2.0

MaxPlanckResearch 1/2017 Environoment & Climate

Over 50 million genes and 40,000 proteins: combing through international databases for likely candidates, Tobias Erb and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg were faced with an overwhelming choice. In the end, the scientists picked out just 17 enzymes for the first synthetic metabolic pathway that is able to convert carbon dioxide into other organic molecules. Now they have to show that the cycle they sketched out on the drawing board also works in living cells.

No job offers available

Small proteins, big impact

2023 Yuan, Jing

Cell Biology Microbiology

Nature uses antimicrobial peptides as broad-spectrum antibiotics: they are the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Bacteria, however, have developed ways to evade these defenses. Our project group has investigated how a small protein establishes a sensitive alarm system of bacteria to be on the lookout for antimicrobial peptides. Our work provides the molecular basis for the development of new peptide-based drugs.


Back to the future of photosynthesis

2022 Hochberg, Georg

Evolutionary Biology Genetics Microbiology

The central biocatalyst in photosynthesis, Rubisco, is the most abundant enzyme on earth. But how did Rubisco evolve, and how did it adapt to environmental changes during Earth’s history? By reconstructing billion-year-old enzymes, our team has deciphered one of the key adaptations of early photosynthesis. Our results not only provide insights into the evolution of modern photosynthesis but also offer new synthetic impulses for improving it.


Ustilago maydis is one of numerous fungal pathogens that destroy large quantities of crops worldwide each year. Its highly specific interaction with the host plant maize is a valuable model system for studying molecular details of fungal-plant interactions. We found a fungal complex of seven proteins forming a structure with an essential role in disease development. Our findings potentially a fungal complex of seven proteins forming a structure with an essential role in disease development. Our findings potentially open up novel approaches to plant protection.


Light-driven protein injection

2020 Diepold, Andreas


Bacteria such as Salmonella or Yersinia are equipped with tiny "injection needles" for shooting proteins into their host cells. For years, researchers have thought of using bacterial injection devices to introduce proteins into eukaryotic cells. We now succeeded in controlling the injection system optogenetically by using light as a trigger, enabling its targeted utilization in biotechnological or medical applications.


Adding a new dimension to the global carbon cycle

2019 Schada von Borzyskowski, Lennart; Erb, Tobias J.

Ecology Microbiology

Glycolic acid is a direct by-product of photosynthesis and one of the most important compounds in the carbon cycle of the oceans. Though marine bacteria convert some of its carbon back into carbon dioxide, the exact metabolic pathways remained largely unknown. We rediscovered a long forgotten pathway, the BHA cycle. This cycle was overlooked so far, but actually represents the major pathway for glycolic acid degradation in ubiquitous marine Proteobacteria. Its detailed and multidisciplinary elucidation enables reassessment of the global carbon dioxide balance.

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