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 for Marine Microbiology

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

Some microbes degrade oil to gas

The recently discovered Methanoliparia produces methane from crude oil all by itself

Bacterial degradation of algal blooms seems surprisingly simple

A microbial community with reduced diversity cleans up after algal blooms

Microbes in the South Pacific Gyre

Scientists make an inventory of microbial life in the world’s most remote ocean region

Bacterium turns waste into food

Scientists discover the first known sulfur-oxidizing symbiont to be entirely heterotrophic

One of the simplest animals live in symbiosis with bacteria

Scientists discover microbes in Trichoplax


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.

The oceans are full of bacteria. Outwardly, they all look much the same, but there are many different species living a variety of ways of life. This has led Hanno Teeling, Bernhard Fuchs and Frank Oliver Glöckner from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen to analyze bacterial diversity in the oceans with the aid of metagenomics. To do this, they first throw the whole bacterial genome into one pot, then decode the DNA molecules and sort the genetic mix back into individual bacterial groups.

The depths of the ocean are a hostile environment. In a bid to defy these adverse conditions, many organisms have teamed up to form close relationships called symbioses. Nicole Dubilier and her colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen keep discovering new symbioses that provide these deep-sea inhabitants with a guaranteed energy supply.

Life is more abundant here than anywhere else on the planet: tropical coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. But they are under threat – from acidification of the water.

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.


Deep-sea creatures thrive on oil – teamwork is the key to success

2017 Wegener, Gunter; Borowski, Christian; Laso-Pérez, Raphael; Rubin-Blum, Maxim; Boetius, Antje; Dubilier, Nicole

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

Scientists from Bremen discovered deep-sea organisms that thrive on oil as an energy source. Natural oil leakages exist on the bottom of the ocean in several thousand meters water depth. These sites harbor microorganisms that feed on the volatile compounds of the oil such as ethane, butane and propane. Diverse groups of microorganisms cooperate in teams and some specialized bacteria even live in symbiosis with marine invertebrates and feed them with the products of oil degradation. The Bremen scientists have investigated how they achieve their goal.


Digestive enzymes in the oceans and the human gut

2016 Hehemann, Jan-Hendrik; Schlösser, Manfred

Ecology Microbiology

The Research Group for Marine Glycobiology studies the microbial degradation of organic matter by bacteria. The substrates originate from marine algae. These algae convert huge amounts of carbon dioxide by photosynthesis into sugars, thereby forming the nutritional basis for heterotrophic organisms. On a global scale marine micro algae form the same amount of reduced carbon compounds like the whole biomass of terrestrial plants. And as a side effect they also produce half of the atmospheric oxygen.


Microbiomes of deep-sea extreme environments

2015 Boetius, Antje

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

The deep sea harbors an astronomical number of microorganisms and an unknown genetic variety. Unraveling the genetic functions of ocean microbiomes is essential for understanding the Earth system and its element cycles. Especially the extreme ecosystems of the deep sea hold clues to the evolution and limits of life, and its adaptability to a dynamic planet.


Chance or determinism: molecular ecological studies of degradation processes of algal biomass by marine bacteria

2014 Amann, Rudolf; Fuchs, Bernhard M..; Teeling, Hanno

Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

Every spring algal blooms color the temperate and polar seas greenish-brown. When the algae die millions of tons of proteins and sugars are released which are by large mineralized by bacteria. This raises two questions: what characterizes these bacteria and does their occurrence follow predictable patterns?

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