Research cooperations

Research cooperations

Microcosm Earth Center (MEC) / Zukunftszentrum "Mikrokosmos Erde"
The "Microcosm Earth Center" builds on the long-standing, successful cooperation between the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology and the Philipps-Universität Marburg. It sets the stage for an early identification and development of new research topics and aims for the training and promotion of outstanding young talents in the field of microbiology. In a highly collaborative environment equipped with state-of-the-art research technology, the members of the center are working on finding solutions for the major challenges of our time.
Steering Committee: Tobias Erb, Victor Sourjik, Olalla Vazquez, Martin Thanbichler
Participants from MPI-TM: Martina Preiner

BMBF Research Initiative Innovationsraum: Bioball - SynBioTech - Synergistische Entwicklung biotechnologischer und chemischer Verfahren zur Wertschöpfung von dezentralen C1-Stoffströmen
SynBioTech is part of the BioBall innovation area - BioBall derives from "Bioökonomie im Ballungsraum" (bioeconomy in the conurbation) as the BioBall innovation space was formed in the Frankfurt Rhine-Main metropolitan region. In the joint project SynBioTech, biogenic CO2  is hydrogenated to methanol which is then converted into biomass for the feed industry or acid derivatives for the chemical industry, with the help of Methylorubrum extorquens strains. MPIterMic identifies alternative metabolic pathways for the production of (branched) acid derivatives, produces corresponding production strains of Methylobacterium and tests them under realistic production conditions.
Period of funding: 04/01/2020 - 03/31/2023
Speaker: Bastian Etzold, TU Darmstadt
Participant from MPI-TM: Tobias J. Erb more
BMBF "Mikrobielle Biofabriken: PolyMore - Ein Paenibacillus-Polymyxa-Chassis für die chemische Produktion und neue Sporenprozesse"

BMBF "Mikrobielle Biofabriken: PolyMore - Ein Paenibacillus-Polymyxa-Chassis für die chemische Produktion und neue Sporenprozesse"

The funding program “Microbial Biofabrics for the Industrial Bioeconomy"of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research  aims to identify previously not industrially used microorganisms and to optimize them in order to create new products or processes. The thematic priorities are (1) identification and characterization of new microorganisms for industrial production (2) further development of microorganisms into new platform organisms for use in industrial production 3) development of innovative process concepts and technologies for the cultivation of new platform organisms.
Period of funding: 02/01/2020 - 01/31/2023
Speaker: Johannes Kabisch, TU Darmstadt
Participant from MPI-TM: Tobias J. Erb
BMBF "Mikrobielle Biofabriken: RhabdoFerm – Photorhabdus und Xenorhabdus Bakterien als Produktionsstämme für biologisch aktive Naturstoffe mit Anwendung in Medizin, Landwirtschaft und Biotechnologie”
Many bacteria produce biologically active natural products or secondary metabolites, some of which are also used clinically, e.g. as antibiotics or against cancer. In the past, these natural products were mainly obtained from known natural product producers such as Streptomyces or Myxobacteria. However, recent work shows that many other bacterial genera are also capable of producing natural products, but their function and structure are mostly still unknown. The goal of RhabdoFerm is to uncover this treasure.
Period of funding: 02/01/2020 - 01/31/2023
Participant from MPI-TM: Helge Bode (Speaker) more
BMBF „Mikrobielle Biofabriken: METAFOR – Entwicklung eines Ogataea polymorpha Plattformstamms für die Umsetzung von C1-Verbindungen in Wertprodukten”

BMBF „Mikrobielle Biofabriken: METAFOR – Entwicklung eines Ogataea polymorpha Plattformstamms für die Umsetzung von C1-Verbindungen in Wertprodukten”

METAFOR develops a hybrid approach for the electrochemical CO2 reduction to C1 compounds and the subsequent microbial conversion to important basic chemicals. For this purpose, the methylotrophic yeast Ogataea polymorpha is established as a platform organism for the conversion of the C1 compounds methanol and formate to valuable products. METAFOR combines the microbial process with an upstream chemical CO2 reduction to formate. The chemical process is optimized to provide formate in a biocompatible aqueous solution that can be fed directly into the subsequent fermentation.
Period of Funding: 02/01/2020 - 01/31/2023
Participants from MPI-TM: Tobias J. Erb
Priority Programm (SPP 1927) "Iron-Sulfur for Life"
Iron-sulfur (FeS) centers are essential protein cofactors in all forms of life. In particular, FeS centers function as enzyme cofactors in catalysis and electron transfer, and as sensors of environmental conditions. Moreover, they are indispensable for the biosynthesis of other protein cofactors including complex metal-clusters. In the SPP it is planned to study novel enzyme mechanisms, innovative model complexes, and new biogenesis pathways in the context of metalloenzymes in living organisms, addressing  (1) Assembly of FeS proteins as a starting point for versatile functionality; (2) Biosynthesis and crosstalk of complex metal cofactors by FeS proteins; (3) Catalysis and functions of complex FeS proteins for bio-applications, and (4) Disease-relevant roles of FeS proteins in cellular metal homeostasis. The program further aims at the development of future cellular systems for bioenergy production, fertilization and bio-applications.
Period of funding: 09/01/2016 - 05/31/2023
Speaker: Silke Leimkühler, University of Potsdam
Participant from MPI-TM: Seigo Shima
Priority Porgramme (SPP 2002) „Small Proteins in Prokaryotes, an Unexplored World”
Modern genomics and transcriptomics technology have over the past decade discovered a wealth of hidden small genes containing short open reading frames (sORF) in many prokaryotic genomes. These sORF encode small proteins of ≤ 70 amino acids in length, and are typically missed by automated gene predictions. Recent studies have shown that these small proteins impact disparate cellular processes, running the gamut of energy generation, transport, virulence, symbiosis, sporulation, and photosynthesis. This Priority Programme aims to explore this emerging major class of prokaryotic gene products by unravelling the full repertoire of sORF, studying the functions and physiological roles as well as underlying molecular mechanisms of prokaryotic small proteins.
Period of funding: 01/01/2021 - 12/31/2023
Speaker: Ruth Schmitz-Streit, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel
Participant from MPI-TM: Jing Yuan more
Priority Programme (SPP 2389) "Emergent Functions of Bacterial Multicellularity"
The Priority Program SPP2389 aims at establishing the concept of bacteria as multicellular microorganisms that live at least transiently stable and highly organized in tissue-like populations that exhibit properties and physiological features that go beyond the single cell. This concept rests on two pillars: (i) The FORM, that is, the spatiotemporal positioning of phenotypically specialized cells in stable filaments or tissue-like aggregates. This form then provides a cellular framework for (ii) the emergence of unique and altogether multicellular FUNCTIONS that only occur and/or exclusively make sense in the multicellular context.
Period of funding: 10/01/2022 - 09/30/2025
Speaker: Thorsten Mascher, Technische Universität Dresden
Participant from MPI-TM: Ilka Bischofs-Pfeifer
DFG-ANR grant “Deciphering and engineering of the molecular diversity of NRPS-derived azacyclic alkaloids in bacteria (NRPSBacAza)”
Nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS) have recently been shown to reduce the virulence of the bacteria producing them towards the host. The details of the molecular mechanisms responsible for this biological activity and generation of chemical diversity are still unclear. Due to the often interesting pharmacological properties of corresponding aza cycles, these questions will be answered within the framework of NRPSBacAza. Based on the results obtained and in particular the structures and biochemical mechanisms of the enzymes involved, new alkaloids will then also be generated using synthetic biology methods. These may have new biological activities, e.g. as anti-virulence agents against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an important human pathogenic bacterium.
Period of Funding: 12/01/2020 - 11/30/2023
Participant from MPI-TM: Helge Bode (Speaker) more
MPG-FhG Project: “eBioCO2n” – Herstellung von Spezialchemikalien durch stromgetriebene CO2-Konversion
Crude oil remains the chemical industry’s most important raw material, from which plastics, paints and components of medicines are produced. The aim of the eBIOCO2 Project is to replace at least a part of the fossil fuel with CO2 for a circular economy that will reduce chemical production’s carbon footprint. For this they combine approaches from biochemistry, enzyme biology and synthetic biology, developing bio-electrodes to use electricity to drive enzymes that will work together to transform CO2 into usable chemical substances. To bring the project to a close, they will build a demonstrator to produce the amino acids alanine, glycine and aspartate from CO2 in order to prove the viability of electrically powered biocatalytic CO2 conversion.
Period of funding: 04/01/2019 - 03/31/2023
Participant from MPI-TM: Tobias Erb more
Volkswagen LIFE Grant "BRILIANCE" - BRinging Inorganic carbon to LIfe with Artificial CO2-fixation in a minimal CEll
Life is the constant conversion of non-living to the living. In this project the research team aims at re-inventing this fundamental process in life. The group will re-program designer cells (so called 'minimal cells') to use a completely novel, artificial way for the capture and conversion of the inanimate gas CO2. The project will explore new ways of harnessing CO2 as sustainable source for the generation of organic compounds present in our everyday life as food, fuels and pharmaceuticals.
Period of funding: 01/01/2019 - 12/31/2023
Participant from MPI-TM: Tobias Erb (Speaker) more
FET OPEN Project "Gain4Crops"
The EC-funded project GAIN4CROPS is developing novel disruptive technologies to overcome one of the main constraints on photosynthetic efficiency: photorespiration, a process that reduces CO2 assimilation efficiency, and thus biomass yield and agricultural productivity. The project aims to improve the efficiency of the C3 metabolism in plants, in a stepwise approach: (1) Enhancing C3 photosynthetic efficiency using a naturally occurring variation of photorespiratory metabolism, in particular C3-C4 intermediate photosynthesis; (2) Further optimization of the process by engineering new-to-nature metabolic pathways by innovative plant breeding techniques.
Period of funding: 05/01/2020 - 04/30/2025
Speaker: Andreas Weber, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Participant from MPI-TM: Tobias Erb more
LOEWE Priority Program „ Tree-M: Mechanisms of resilience and environmental impact of the tree leaf microbiome“
Forests fulfill essential climate functions and are economically important. They harbor an immense variety of microorganisms, exhibiting enormous biochemical and physiological diversity. The Tree-M research cluster funded by the LOEWE excellence program of the State of Hesse investigates the complex network of microbial interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment in the tree phyllosphere. This interdisciplinary research cluster joins forces of academic groups from the fields of microbiology, biochemistry, ecology, geography, and bioinformatics. Research activities bridge scales from individual bacterial cells (molecular mechanisms of bacterial enzymes, metabolic activities, and their regulation) to microbial communities (interactions within the leaf microbiome and with the abiotic environment) and cross-kingdom organismic interaction networks (microbiota-leaf-herbivore interactions) in cultivation systems in the laboratory and in tree canopies in the forest.
Speaker: Anke Becker, Philipps-Universität Marburg; Nina Farwig, Philipps-Universität Marburg; Tobias Erb, MPI-TM
Period of funding: 01/01/2023 - 12/31/2026
Participants from MPI-TM: Tobias Erb, Helge Bode, Nicole Paczia, Johannes Rebelein more
LOEWE Research Cluster „Diffusible Signals – Impact of diffusible signals at human cell-microbe interfaces“
The research project "Diffusible Signals" aims to investigate and modify a central basis of infection processes: the communication between bacteria and human inflammatory cells. Together, physicians, biologists and computer scientists are investigating the exchange of soluble (diffusible) signals at the interfaces between clinically important bacteria and inflammatory cells. New insights into infection processes can help develop new targeted therapies that strengthen human immune defenses and weaken bacterial attack.
Speaker: Bernd Schmeck, Philipps-Universität Marburg
Period of funding: 01/01/2021 - 12/31/2024
Participants from MPI-TM: Victor Sourjik more
LOEWE Research Cluster "Dynamics of Membranes. Molecular basics and theoretical description: DynaMem"
DynaMem combines research approaches of the basic behavior of biological membranes, the dynamics of membranes, membrane systems, and organelles in cellular, supra-cellular context and also at level of organisms to understand basic principles of dynamics and their significance in a cellular context in a long term run. Detailed analyses of new aspects of membrane dynamics will lead to knowledge which leads to new strategies for the development of therapeutically approaches. According to this scientific concept DynaMem is focuses on three key aspects: (A) Manipulation of membrane functions, (B) Cellular manipulation of membrane dynamics, (C) Dynamics of membrane systems and organelles.
Period of funding: 01/01/2018 - 12/31/2021
Speaker: Achilleas Frangakis, Goethe University Frankfurt
Participant from MPI-TM: Helge Bode more
LOEWE Center "Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG)"
Biodiversity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution and one of the most complex phenomena on earth. The LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics focusses on the genetic basis of biological diversity to make it accessible for basic and applied research. We sequence and study genomic variation across the tree of life to comprehend the origin and functional adaptations of diversity from genes to ecosystems (Comparative Genomics). The data addresses societal knowledge demands in applied fields, such as the genomic basis of biologically active substances (Natural Products Genomics), and the sustainable use and management of biological resources (Genomic Biomonitoring; Functional Environmental Genomics).
Period of funding: 01/01/2018 - 12/31/2024
Speaker: Axel Janke, Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt
Participant from MPI-TM: Helge Bode more

Human Frontiers Science Grant "Darwin rwinDa: rewinding and rerunning evolution to study innovation in action"
In this research project it is investigated how a particular group of bacteria evolved an unusually powerful flagellum and in the process acquired many new motor components. The goal is to create a visually detailed history of how this machine evolved step-by-step, similar to how evolution of the vertebrate eye or limb can be followed through their different evolutionary stages in the fossil record.
Period of funding:
08/01/2021 - 07/31/2024
Participant from MPI-TM: Georg Hochberg (Speaker) more
Leverhulme Trust “How does the entropy of protein assemblies constrain their evolution“
In our cells, proteins carry out processes that sustain life. Most act in assemblies, which can be very complex – being made up of mixed numbers or types of proteins. We will explore the evolutionary processes that generate and maintain this complexity. We will examine how different types of entropy – nature’s tendency towards disorder – shaped and constrained the evolution of extraordinarily complicated protein assemblies in the history of the small Heat-Shock Proteins, an important class of stress-response proteins. This work will shed new light on the evolutionary processes that generate and preserve biological complexity at the molecular scale.
Period of funding: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2024
Speaker: Justin Benesch, University of Oxford
Participant from MPI-TM: Georg Hochberg more
Novartis Forschungsstiftung “Combatting cancer by harnessing predatory bacteria for microinjection”
Current cancer treatments induce severe side effects which could be minimized by a more localized and specific medical therapy. Bacteria possess an elegant solution for delivery of agents such as proapoptotic proteins into tumour cells - microinjection devices like the type III secretion system (T3SS). The well-characterised T3SS can directly inject cargo of functional therapeutic proteins into the eukaryotic cytoplasm, enabling protein replacement, cellular reprogramming, nanobody delivery, and even gene editing. Its spatial and temporal activity can be precisely controlled by external illumination. This project aims to harness predatory bacteria as a new chassis for drug delivery via microinjection by T3SS. Predatory bacteria like Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus kill other Gram-negative bacteria, meaning they are non-pathogenic towards human cells. B. bacteriovorus possesses highly attractive properties for drug delivery like small size, active swimming and gliding motility, chemotaxis, low innate immunogenicity, and prolonged survival in human serum. Further, multiple studies indicate its safe use in animals. We aim to repurpose the naturally evolved hunter B. bacteriovorus to target eukaryotic cells by genetic engineering to enable assembly and application of a T3SS. Our approach may allow entirely new applications for targeted protein delivery and precisely controlled treatment of cancer.
Period of funding: 12/01/2021 - 05/31/2023
Participant from MPI-TM: Andreas Diepold (Collaboration with Prof. Simona Huwiler, University of Zurich, Switzerland)
Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO)
The LOEWE program is an excellence initiative of the state of Hesse to promote excellent research at Hessian universities and other research institutions. SYNMIKRO, the LOEWE Center for Synthetic Microbiology, was founded in 2010 as a cooperation center between Philipps University Marburg and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology. To this end, more than 50 million euros in funding was received from 2010 to 2018. Since then, the center has grown steadily and has become a center of attraction for young and more experienced scientists from all over the world. In SYNMIKRO, Biologists, biochemists, physicists, mathematicians, bioinformaticians and bioethicists work together in - the research collaboration that is unique for Germany offers completely new opportunities to expand our understanding of the molecular basis and potential uses of microorganisms and to open up new applications. The Marburg researchers aim to design synthetic cells with tailored properties from standardized building blocks. These cells could be used, for example, to produce new drugs, chemicals, biofuels and food additives efficiently, cost-effectively and in an environmentally compatible manner.
International Max Planck Research School "Principles of Microbial Life: From molecules to cells, from cells to interactions" (IMPRS-µLife)
Since 2003 the IMPRS in Marburg offers an international PhD programme with excellent research opportunities for young scientists from all over the world. The programme provides interdisciplinary training in modern microbiology, state-of-the-art research facilities, and mentoring by world class scientists. The school is a close collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology and the Philipps-Universität Marburg.

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