Microbial community assembly

Environmental biotechnology has traditionally focused on monocultures of the most promising microorganisms. This is different to the bacterial life style in the natural environment, where bacteria usually occur as taxonomically and metabolically diverse communities. As compared to monocultures, these diverse communities offer several advantages, such as increased ecosystem functioning and stability or the emergence of new biosynthetic functions. Such microbial communities can be designed top-down by manipulating a self-assembled natural occurring community or bottom-up by assembling a synthetic microbial community from occurring or engineered microorganisms. We (Dr. Peter Deines) see enormous potential in applying principles from evolutionary engineering and ecological systems biology to environmental biotechnology as this enables selecting for an increased biological function, for example in biodegradation, at the community level.

press release: nachrichten.idw-online.de/2020/07/21/microbial-carrying-capacity-is-decisive-for-health-and-disease/

Microbial plastic degradation

Nano- and microplastic particles steadily accumulate in the marine environment. For the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic with an estimated weight of 80.000 tons have so far accumulated and with no end in sight. Furthermore, man-made polymers can now be found in our food chain and it is not clear whether uptake with the daily nutrition can be harmful. Therefore, removal of (micro-) plastics from the marine environment and decreasing further microplastic pollution is a major and very urgent challenge for our society. While the removal is far from being a trivial task, it offers, at the same time, the opportunity for the development of novel, bio-based technologies and innovative bioprocesses. Our main goals (Erik Borchert) within the PLASTISEA consortium are the delivery of novel enzymes and microorganisms for the development of original and innovative strategies for the removal of synthetic polymers (micro- and nanoparticles) from the marine environment.

Microbial biological and chemical diversity

Marine microbes are an important resource for bioactive compounds and biocatalysts with tremendous possibilities, e.g. for application for health and biotechnology. In the ecological context, bioactive compounds have functions in cellular communication, signaling, and in the defense against predators and pathogens. Therefore, they may play a significant role in shaping interactions and forming the structure of marine communities. Biocatalysts, on the other hand, help microbes to access otherwise hidden nutritional sources or to catalyze chemical reactions normally unfavorable under the given environmental conditions (high pressure in the deep sea, low temperatures, high salt concentrations, etc.). The treasure trove of marine microbial biodiversity is largely unexplored (Dr. Jutta Wiese) but could help us in addressing urging societal challenges like extensive waste production and plastic pollution. Present and future research focus on marine microbial and chemical biodiversity to investigate their role and function in the marine environment. Additionally, we aim for transferring this knowledge into biotechnological applications for healthcare, food industry, and waste management.


Dr. Peter Deines, Dr. Erik Borchert, Dr. Jutta Wiese, Ashley Coons, Vincent Richter

Selected Publications

Borchert E, Garcia-Moyano A, Sanchez-Carrillo S, Dahlgren TG, Slaby BM, Bjerga GEK, Ferrer M, Franzenburg S, Hentschel U (2020) Deciphering a marine bone degrading microbiome reveals a complex community effort. bioRxiv, 2020.05.13.093005.

Borchert E, Jackson SA, O'Gara F, Dobson AD (2016) Diversity of natural product biosynthetic genes in the microbiome of the deep-sea sponges Inflatella pellicula, Poecillastra compressa, and Stelletta normani. Front. Microbiol., 7:1027.

Borchert E, Knobloch S, Dwyer E, O’Flynn S, Jackson SA, Jóhannsson R, Marteinsson VT, O’Gara F, Dobson ADW (2017) Biotechnological potential of cold adapted Pseudoalteromonas spp. isolated from ‘deep sea’ sponges. Mar. Drugs, 15, 184.

Choo S, Wiese J, Borchert E, Saha M, Künzel S, Weinberger F, Hentschel U (2020) Polaribacter nordstrandensis sp. nov., isolated from the biofilm of a stone from the North Sea. IJSEM, 70, 4305-4314.

Deines P, Hammerschmidt K, Bosch TCG (2020) Exploring the niche concept in a simple metaorganism. bioRxiv, 814798, Front. Microbiol., 11:e00807-20.

Deines P, Hammerschmidt K, Bosch TCB (2020) Microbial species coexistence depends on the host environment. mBio 11:e00807-20.

Lachnit T, Bosch TCG, Deines P (2019) Exposure of the host-associated microbiome to nutrient-rich conditions may lead to dysbiosis and disease development - an evolutionary perspective. mBio 10:e00355-19.

Sottorff I, Künzel S, Wiese J, Lipfert M, Preusske N, Sönnichsen FD, Imhoff JF (2019) Antitumoral anthraquinones from an Easter Island sea anemone: animal or bacterial origin? Mar. Drugs, 17, 154.

Villalobos AV, Wiese J, Imhoff JF, Dorador C, Keller A, Hentschel U (2019) Systematic affiliation and genome analysis of Subtercola vilae DB165T with particular emphasis on cold adaptation of an isolate from a high-altitude cold volcano lake. Microorganisms, 7, 107.


  • BioProMare: PLASTISEA (BMBF)

Harvesting the Marine Plastisphere for Novel and Innovative Biotechnology Concepts


  • ERA-NET Marine Biotechnology: ProBone (BMBF)

New tools for prospecting the marine bone-degrading microbiome for new enzymes