• 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

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Latest publications

Ammonia monooxygenase-mediated cometabolic biotransformation and hydroxylamine-mediated abiotic transformation of micropollutants in an AOB/NOB co-culture

Biotransformation of various micropollutants (MPs) has been found to be positively correlated with nitrification in activated sludge communities. To further elucidate the roles played by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), we investigated the biotransformation capabilities of an NOB pure culture (Nitrobacter sp.), and an AOB (Nitrosomonas europaea) / NOB (Nitrobacter sp.) co-culture for fifteen MPs, whose biotransformation were reported previously to be associated with nitrification. The NOB pure culture did not biotransform any investigated MP, whereas the AOB/NOB co-culture was capable of biotransforming asulam, and five other MPs. Two transformation products (TPs) of asulam were identified and tentative structures were proposed. Inhibition studies with octyne, an ammonia monooxygenase (AMO) inhibitor, suggested that AMO was the responsible enzyme for asulam transformation that occurred co-metabolically. Interestingly, hydroxylamine, a key intermediate of all aerobic ammonia oxidizers, was found to react with several MPs at concentrations typically occurring in AOB batch cultures. All of these MPs were also biotransformed by the AOB/NOB co-culture. Moreover, the same asulam TPs were detected in both biotransformation and hydroxylamine-treated abiotic transformation experiments. Thus, in addition to cometabolism likely carried out by AMO, an abiotic transformation route indirectly mediated by AMO might also contribute to MP biotransformation by AOB. 

Yu Y, Han P, Zhou L-J, Li Z, Wagner M, Men Y
2018 - Environ Sci Technol, in press

Characterization of the first “Candidatus Nitrotoga” isolate reveals metabolic versatility and separate evolution of widespread nitrite-oxidizing bacteria

Nitrification is a key process of the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle and of biological wastewater treatment. The second step, nitrite oxidation to nitrate, is catalyzed by phylogenetically diverse, chemolithoautotrophic nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB). Uncultured NOB from the genus “Candidatus Nitrotoga” are widespread in natural and engineered ecosystems. Knowledge about their biology is sparse, because no genomic information and no pure “Ca. Nitrotoga” culture was available. Here we obtained the first “Ca. Nitrotoga” isolate from activated sludge. This organism, “Candidatus Nitrotoga fabula,” prefers higher temperatures (>20°C; optimum, 24 to 28°C) than previous “Ca. Nitrotoga” enrichments, which were described as cold-adapted NOB. “Ca. Nitrotoga fabula” also showed an unusually high tolerance to nitrite (activity at 30 mM NO2) and nitrate (up to 25 mM NO3). Nitrite oxidation followed Michaelis-Menten kinetics, with an apparent Km (Km(app)) of ~89 µM nitrite and a Vmax of ~28 µmol of nitrite per mg of protein per h. Key metabolic pathways of “Ca. Nitrotoga fabula” were reconstructed from the closed genome. “Ca. Nitrotoga fabula” possesses a new type of periplasmic nitrite oxidoreductase belonging to a lineage of mostly uncharacterized proteins. This novel enzyme indicates (i) separate evolution of nitrite oxidation in “Ca. Nitrotoga” and other NOB, (ii) the possible existence of phylogenetically diverse, unrecognized NOB, and (iii) together with new metagenomic data, the potential existence of nitrite-oxidizing archaea. For carbon fixation, “Ca. Nitrotoga fabula” uses the Calvin-Benson-Bassham cycle. It also carries genes encoding complete pathways for hydrogen and sulfite oxidation, suggesting that alternative energy metabolisms enable “Ca. Nitrotoga fabula” to survive nitrite depletion and colonize new niches.

Kitzinger K, Koch H, Lücker S, Sedlacek CJ, Herbold C, Schwarz J, Daebeler A, Mueller AJ, Lukumbuzya M, Romano S, Leisch N, Karst SM, Kirkegaard R, Albertsen M, Nielsen PH, Wagner M, Daims H
2018 - mBio, 9: e01186-18

Signatures of ecological processes in microbial community time series.

Growth rates, interactions between community members, stochasticity, and immigration are important drivers of microbial community dynamics. In sequencing data analysis, such as network construction and community model parameterization, we make implicit assumptions about the nature of these drivers and thereby restrict model outcome. Despite apparent risk of methodological bias, the validity of the assumptions is rarely tested, as comprehensive procedures are lacking. Here, we propose a classification scheme to determine the processes that gave rise to the observed time series and to enable better model selection.
We implemented a three-step classification scheme in R that first determines whether dependence between successive time steps (temporal structure) is present in the time series and then assesses with a recently developed neutrality test whether interactions between species are required for the dynamics. If the first and second tests confirm the presence of temporal structure and interactions, then parameters for interaction models are estimated. To quantify the importance of temporal structure, we compute the noise-type profile of the community, which ranges from black in case of strong dependency to white in the absence of any dependency. We applied this scheme to simulated time series generated with the Dirichlet-multinomial (DM) distribution, Hubbell's neutral model, the generalized Lotka-Volterra model and its discrete variant (the Ricker model), and a self-organized instability model, as well as to human stool microbiota time series. The noise-type profiles for all but DM data clearly indicated distinctive structures. The neutrality test correctly classified all but DM and neutral time series as non-neutral. The procedure reliably identified time series for which interaction inference was suitable. Both tests were required, as we demonstrated that all structured time series, including those generated with the neutral model, achieved a moderate to high goodness of fit to the Ricker model.
We present a fast and robust scheme to classify community structure and to assess the prevalence of interactions directly from microbial time series data. The procedure not only serves to determine ecological drivers of microbial dynamics, but also to guide selection of appropriate community models for prediction and follow-up analysis.

Faust K, Bauchinger F, Laroche B, de Buyl S, Lahti L, Washburne AD, Gonze D, Widder S
2018 - Microbiome, 1: 120

Lecture series

Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics of Microbial Populations in the Wild

Martin Polz
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
14.06.2018
12:00 h
Hörsaal 2, UZA 1, Althanstr. 14, 1090 Wien

Modulation of the Human Gut Microbiota - An Ecological Perspective

Jens Walter
University of Alberta
17.05.2018
12:00 h
Hörsaal 2, UZA 1, Althanstr. 14, 1090 Wien

Measurement of sulfur isotope fractionation by APS reductase and its biogeochemical implications

Shawn McGlynn
Earth-Life Science Institute Tokyo
26.04.2018
11:00 h
Hörsaal 2, UZA 1, Althanstr. 14, 1090 Wien