The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Marine Microbiology in Bremen was founded in 1992 and investigates the role, diversity and features of microorganisms, especially of bacteria, and their interaction with physical and chemical processes in marine and other aquatic habitats. The activity of microorganisms in these habitats is indispensable for the maintenance of the global cycles of the elements. With this dedication, the institute intended to meet a research demand that was recognized during the 1980s. In contrast to bacteria investigated in medical microbiology and biotechnology, that are represented at several institutions and often subject to reports in the media, free-living bacteria in nature attract our attention less frequently. The reason for this lies in the fact that natural activities of bacteria are usually less spectacular, since they are part of a well-balanced system that presents the normal case and are, therefore, taken for granted. Only if the environment is disturbed by human activities, for instance by water pollution, or by natural events with high environmental impact, the importance of microbes for the balance of the global cycles of the elements becomes obvious.
Like soil and inland waters the sea is not only an important habitat for higher life forms, but also for micro organsisms. Living conditions in the sea, however, are very diverse and are determined, for instance, by high concentrations of mineral salts, extremely low nutrient concentrations in the open ocean, low temperatures and high pressures in the deep ocean, high temperatures in hydrothermal vent areas, or the natural transformations and reactivity of sulfur, iron and manganese species in coastal sediments.Regardless which marine site or biotope we investigate, it always seems that several of the main microbial processes are still inadequately understood, and that many of the microbial actors are unknown.
The MPI in Bremen dedicates most of its research activities to bacteria and bacterial processes in sediments. Sediments are the sites with the most intense and diverse transformation processes of organic and inorganic substances in the sea due to the accumulation of organic detritus in marine sediments. Many bacteria in sediments possess metabolic capabilities which are not encountered in plants and animals. They reduce or oxidise compounds of sulfur, nitrogen, and iron minerals, they even degrade problematic organic compounds like crude oil and pesticides. Bacterial activities in sediments significantly influence the global cycles of elements, and have led to major depositions of minerals over geological periods.
Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie
Further information: http://www.mpi-bremen.de/