Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology

Molecular Biodiversity Research

Our research projects focus on a combination of field ecology with bioinformatics and new sequencing technologies. Conceptually, we are interested in patterns and structuring forces of communities, where organisms are not easily identifiable or distinguishable from each other. This interest applies to various levels, starting with abundance and diversity of taxa, over phylogenetic reconstructions, towards environmental and spatial influences and lastly regarding organisms' molecular interactions with each other on a genomic level. Methodologically, the workgroup is developing computational workflows and databases as well as laboratory protocols to analyse ecological samples with next-generation sequencing technologies. 

Biologically, the focus of current projects is the dynamics of bacteria-host associations in changing environments. Regarding this, we currently consider changes in microbiota induced by 

  • symbiotic host-host interactions,
  • the host's development,
  • geographic intra-specific variability,
  • climatic changes,
  • prey capturing,
  • as well as general variation between tissues and species of hosts. 

To answer these questions, we conduct field work, analyse samples in our molecular laboratory and apply computational approaches. We have successfully developed methods to simultaneously assess biodiversity of bacteria and plants (here: mixed pollen samples) through next-generation sequencing allowing a very fine scaled interpretation of plant-bee-microbe interactions. Usually we start with descriptive studies, investigating the status-quo, which are followed by experimental designs manipulating the associations by (e.g. antibiotic) exclusion and bioassays. Lastly, for prospective bacteria with interesting distributions and activity, we are also engaged into genomics, studying the genetic possibilities that bacteria bring into the associations with their respective hosts.