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.

Microbes with a reserve pack of sulfur
In the open sea, the bacterium Thioglobus perditus gains energy from sulfur more
Every grain of sand is a met­ro­polis for bac­teria
A single sand grain harbours up to 100,000 microorganisms from thousands of species. more
<p>Ancient partnership between ciliates and bacteria</p>
Symbiotic ciliates and bacteria have a common ancestor more
Oil as energy source for deep-sea creatures
Scientists discover mussels and sponges in the deep sea which can thrive on oil with the help of symbiont bacteria more
The curse of durability
Can microorganisms help combat the vast amounts of plastic being disposed of in the sea? more
Periodic hypoxia in the deep sea with long-term consequences
Low bottom-water oxygen leads to more organic matter ending up on the seafloor more
Sunken logs serve as habitats in the deep sea
Organisms from the nutrient-deficient deep sea depend on wood as source of energy more
A new dead zone in the Indian Ocean
A new dead zone in the Indian Ocean could impact future marine nutrient balance more
Iron-munching microbe discovered
Newly discovered archaebacteria converts methane into carbon dioxide with the help of iron more
Some bacteria love their foes
Bacteria probably formed symbioses with protists early in evolution more
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients more
Symbiosis with partner exchange
In worm-bacteria symbioses some microbes remain faithful to their hosts, others to their location more
Nano power grids between bacteria
Microorganisms in the sea organise their power supply via tiny power-cables, thus oxidising the greenhouse gas methane more
Deep-sea mussels with highly toxic tenants
Symbiosis bacteria produce a variety of toxins, which appear to save the mussels from being eaten more
<p>Testing the waters</p>

Testing the waters

June 20, 2014
The first ever international Ocean Sampling Day will be held on June 21, when scientists plan to carry out a “health check” of our oceans by investigating its microbial communities. more
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.
Huge quantities of dissolved organic carbon are drifting around in the world’s oceans, a ready-made meal for microorganisms. Yet strange as it may seem, they virtually ignore them. Thorsten Dittmar of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen wants to close this and other knowledge gaps in marine research.
Some species of bacteria even feed on oil. Microbiologists are studying these tiny creatures that thrive in unusual habitats.
Personal Portrait: Nicole Dubilier
Rethinking biodiversity research.

Researchers in Deep Water

MPR 1 /2009 Environment & Climate
At depths of several kilometers, unique ecosystems can be found in the so-called “cold seeps” on the ocean fl oor, the role of which is currently being researched in the context of global material cycles.

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

2018 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. more

Digestive enzymes in the oceans and the human gut

2017 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. more

Microbiomes of deep-sea extreme environments

2016 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. more

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

2015 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?


Processes and biodiversity in phototrophic mats, corals and sediments

2014 de Beer, Dirk; Polerecky, Lubos; Glas, Martin; Chennu, Arjun
Chemistry Ecology Microbiology

In order to study benthic phototrophs we developed a combination of high resolution chemical and community analyses that is widely applicable. The community structure is derived from spectra simultaneously recorded by a hyperspectral camera. A last step was to make the hyperspectral imager autonomous and useful for in situ approaches, even for deep sea deployment. Using these methods we will further intensify our research and investigate ecological hot spots for their productivity, such as coral reefs and sediments under sea-ice.


Isotopes of dissolved trace elements as tracers of biogeochemical and physical processes in the ocean

2013 Pahnke, Katharina; Basak, Chandranath
Chemistry Ecology Microbiology
Microbiological and biogeochemical processes in the ocean are of essential significance for marine ecosystems and play an important role in the Earth’s climate. A detailed understanding of all contributing components, including the supply and transport of trace elements, is therefore of highest interest for marine and climate sciences. Using isotope ratios of trace elements in the ocean, the Max Planck Research Group for Marine Isotope Geochemistry strives to contribute to an improved understanding of the role of geochemical cycles for marine ecosystems and global climate change. more

Giant bacteria in the ocean

2012 Schulz-Vogt, Heide N.
Fourteen years ago, the world’s largest bacterium, Thiomargarita namibiensis, was discovered off the coast of Namibia. Since then we learned that the “Namibian sulfur pearl” has many close relatives in other parts of the sea and that it also plays an important ecological role: These bacteria can induce the formation of phosphorus-rich rocks. This process decreases the total amount of phosphate in seawater with the result that this nutrient becomes unavailable for other organisms. Thereby, the formation of these rocks counteracts the eutrophication of the ocean with respect to phosphate. more

Global geochemical cycling – a matter of microbial economy

2011 Strous, Marc; Schloesser, Manfred
Earth Sciences Ecology Microbiology
The actions of microbes drive the biogeochemical element cycles, a complicated metabolic network that is the basis of all life. About 100 years ago, microbiology's founding fathers have drafted an architecture for this network which has been refined ever since. However, even today we cannot predict the system as a whole and are clueless as to how this system will respond to increasing anthropogenic inputs such as fertilization and fossil fuel burning. Our aim is to unravel the laws of microbial competition and collaboration that connect the individual nodes of the planetary metabolic network. more

Dissolved organic matter in the oceans - a large mystery in marine research

2010 Dittmar, Thorsten; Schloesser, Manfred
Chemistry Ecology Microbiology
The Max Planck Research Group for Marine Geochemistry studies dissolved organic matter in the ocean, an important component of global element cycles. Marine dissolved organic matter accumulates since thousands of years to the largest organic carbon pool in the oceans and is mainly of microbial origin. The controlling mechanisms behind its turnover, however, are unknown. The Max Planck Research Group applies ultra high resolution mass spectrometry to obtain answers to the fundamental questions regarding the cycling of marine organic matter. more

An ocean of symbioses, of unforeseen depth

2009 Aspetsberger, Fanni; Dubilier, Nicole
The Symbiosis Group studies associations between bacteria and marine invertebrates from chemosynthetic environments such as sulfide-rich coastal sediments, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and cold seeps. Our research focuses on three main goals: revealing the biodiversity and biogeography of microbial symbioses, understanding the metabolic pathways the symbionts use to gain energy from the environment and feed their host, and deciphering the evolution of the symbioses and the adaptations that have led to the ecological success of these associations. more

Mathematical modeling of dynamic processes in marine systems

2008 Khalili, Arzhang
Chemistry Microbiology
Many transport processes in the oceans and seas - in the water column and the seabeds - are of physicochemical nature. Small scale hydrodynamic and gasdynamic processes causing global effects play a major role in improving our understanding of marine systems, and hence, of our planet. Research concentrates on numerical simulation of diffusion, advection and chemical reaction processes as well as particle and gas transport in marine systems. more

The Nitrogen Cycle in the Ocean

2007 Kuypers, Marcel M. M.
Chemistry Ecology Microbiology
The Nutrient Group was established in May 2005 as an independent junior research group funded by the Max Planck Society. Research focuses on processes that control nutrient nitrogen availability in past and present marine environments. Specifically, environmental regulation of these processes and their effects on global biogeochemical cycles are investigated. As these cycling processes are typcially mediated by microorganisms, combinations of newly developed geochemical, microbiological and molecular-ecological techniques are applied in these studies. One of the current projects of the Nutrient Group is an elucidation on the role of the recently described anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) within the oceanic nitrogen cycle. more

Ecological genomics as a key for understanding microbial diversity and function

2006 Glöckner, Frank Oliver
Ecology Genetics Microbiology
The advent of high throughput sequencing technologies in the last years is set out to unravel the diversity and function of marine microorganisms on a whole genome level. It is the objective of the microbial genomics group to take advantage of this development and learn more about the mechanisms coded in the genome enabling the organisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions. To reach the goal it is necessary to not only generate sequences but to force functional genomic analysis. To reveal ecological relevant gene functions the genomic potential has to be correlated with on site microbial diversity and physical-chemical measurements on a geospatial level. This in turn should uncover specific niche adaptations and give hints how the organisms influence the global cycling of matters. The knowledge obtained will lead to a better understanding of the complexity, interaction and stability of marine habitats. The long term perspective is to predict the impact of local anthropogenic influences as well as global changes, like the green house effect, on the marine ecosystem. more

Microbial communities of marine habitats: ecology and biogeochemical processes

2005 Janßen, Felix; Treude, Tina; Boetius, Antje
Research interests of the Microbial Habitat Group include exchange processes between marine sediments and the overlying water, the in situ quantification of transport and reaction in sediments as well as experimental studies on the influence of currents, waves, and pressure gradients on the biological and biogeochemical sedimentary processes. A special focus lies on microbial and geochemical processes in permeable sediments and other types of ocean margin systems, especially reduced and chemosynthetic habitats. more

Exploring the diversity of marine microbial processes and environments

2004 Jørgensen, Bo Barker
Ecology Microbiology
The sea floor is a site of high biological activity where the organic material produced in the water column by planktonic algae is deposited and degraded. Oxygen is present only in the upper few millimeters or centimeters of the sea floor. In the zone below which is free of oxygen (anaerobic zone) other oxidants like nitrate, sulfate and insoluble oxides of iron or manganese function as electon acceptors for alternative respiratory processes of diverse anaerobic microorganisms. If their metabolic products like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide or more soluble metal ions diffuse into the oxic zone, they serve as an energy source for chemolithotrophic microorganisms. All these reactions in the sea floor thus form a cascade of redox processes which is initiated by deposited organic material and which is essentialy linked to the global turnover of oxygen, nitrogen, iron, manganese, sulfur and other elements. The diversity and physiological potential of many microorganisms that catalyze these redox reactions are still unknown. The major task of the Department of Biogeochemistry is to elucidate the processes, the involved microorganisms, the control of their activity and their and interactions with the abiotic habitat. more
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