Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology

Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology

The Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology researches marine bacteria that transform carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and iron compounds, thus playing crucial roles in the global material cycle. These bacteria display widely varying adaptations, e.g. to food gradients in sediments, to low and high temperatures and to high pressure in the deep sea. The scientists at the Institute research material gradients and balances and the influence of currents and sediment-inhabiting animals in the coastal regions of Europe, South America, Africa and the Artic, as well as in hydrothermal sources and in the deep sea. Particular attention is focused on bacteria which, for example, regulate the global nitrogen cycle in the low oxygen milieu. Other bacteria specialise in the decomposition of carbohydrates in plants and oil. Molecular biological technologies are used in the research with a view to attaining a better understanding of the variety, structure and function of microbial marine communities. The complex regulation and evolution of environmentally-relevant microorganisms are analysed in detail through the sequencing of entire bacterial genomes and large fragments of environmental DNA.


Celsiusstr. 1
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 2028-50
Fax: +49 421 2028-580

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS of Marine Microbiology

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

Extracellular vesicles

Some archaea communicate with each other with the help of RNA molecules


The bacterial community in Arctic sediments is taxonomically and functionally very stable


How archaea toggle the nitrogen-uptake switch

vfl. Amelie Heuer-Jungemann, Benjamin Vernot,, Tristan Wagner and Matthias Fischer

Four Max Planck projects secure the ERC Consolidator Grants 2023


Extracellular vesicles play a much greater role in horizontal gene transfer in the ocean than previously assumed

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At the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Marcel Kuypers’ and Nicole Dubilier’s departments are unraveling the mysteries of seagrass meadows. Their discoveries have been astonishing: microorganisms play a crucial role in the fitness, productivity, and element fluxes of plants, not just on land, but also in the sea.

No life is free of viruses. On Earth, at least, no organism seems to be spared from them. Susanne Erdmann and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen are studying viruses of the archaea, tiny single-celled organisms that lack a cell nucleus. Her research team investigates virus-like DNA elements, which may help us to explain how viruses actually originated.

It is truly a feat to create conditions like those in the deep ocean in a research laboratory. Gunter Wegener has mastered the art. Together with his team from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, he hopes to discover how microorganisms degrade methane and other hydrocarbons on the seabed.

Max Planck scientists cooperate with partners in more than 110 countries worldwide. Here they relate their personal experiences and impressions. Marine biologist Greta Giljan is a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen. She reports on a research expedition to the Irish Sea, on heavy storms, problems with equipment weighing several tons, and crew unity.

The ocean is her passion, the seabed her lab bench. Antje Boetius from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen always has multiple objectives in her sights: from discovery and precautionary research to technological development and scientific communication. It’s an act that involves a lot of juggling – sometimes in rubber boots, sometimes in high heels.

Sweet spots in the sea

2022 Liebeke, Manuel

Ecology Microbiology

Seagrass beds are important coastal ecosystems that absorb large amounts of carbon through photosynthesis, even though they cover only a small area of the ocean. They release part of this carbon into the sediment through their roots as sugars. Astonishingly, large amounts of sugar are found in their rhizosphere. The seagrasses probably release sugar as a kind of excess-metabolism. At the same time, phenols derived from seagrass prevent microorganisms in the oxygen-poor sediment from breaking down the sugar directly.


A model virus-host system for chronic infections in prokaryotes: Viruses as symbionts?

2021 Erdmann, Susanne; Alarcon Schumacher, Tomas 

Ecology Microbiology

Viruses are an integral and essential part of nature and perform important functions for their hosts and in our ecosystems. We have established a new prokaryotic virus-host model system in which the virus does not kill its host, but causes a long-term chronic infection. Chronic infections are well-known in eukaryotes, but only rarely discovered and poorly understood in prokaryotes. Our model system allows to study a chronic infection in a prokaryotic host in detail and to understand its implications for the host.


Elucidating the molecular tricks of energy extremophiles

2020 Wagner, Tristan; Jespersen, Marion; Lemaire, Olivier

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

While our modern society is struggling to find new processes for greenhouse gas conversion and biofuel production, microorganisms at the bottom of the ocean have been performing these challenging reactions since billions of years using unique and, so far, mainly undescribed strategies. Beyond understanding the fundamental processes behind these primitive metabolisms, our goal is to discover how these exotic reactions are performed at the molecular level. Unveiling and taming these molecular secrets will open a new landscape for biotechnological application.


Deciphering the microbial nitrogen cycle

2019 Kartal, Boran

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

Nitrogen-cycling microorganisms control the bioavailability of nitrogen, which is a vital resource used for the production of crucial biological compounds such as proteins. Understanding how microbes transform one nitrogen compound to another enables us to comprehend how nitrogen cycling is currently functioning, and to better predict its future. Our research is focused on characterizing nitrogen-cycling microbes in molecular detail, and discovering new biochemical pathways and processes in the nitrogen cycle, which has an immense impact on global warming and water pollution.


Friend or foe: microorganisms and greenhouse gases

2018 Milucka, Jana; Graf, Jon; Marchant, Hannah

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

The greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide are powerful contributors to current day global warming. Apart from human activity also natural habitats, such as lakes or the oceans, act as sources of these gases which are directly emitted into the atmosphere. The production and degradation of methane and nitrous oxide in nature is almost exclusively processed by microorganisms. We are on our way to identify the involved microbial species and how they respond to human-induced changes in their given environments.

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