Research Areas

Microorganisms play a key role in sustaining life on Earth, yet are the least studied of all life forms. Their manifold functions shape natural and man-made ecosystems. Humans also shape the environment, an environment that is experiencing rapid global change due to pressures we exert in the Anthropocene. These pressures range from emerging contaminants to altered biogeochemical cycles and climate change.

Furthermore, the health of plants, animals and humans is directly linked to the function of their microbiomes. Recent progress in method development allows us to study the complex interactions between hosts and microbes, between chemicals and the environment, and between microbes and climate. CeMESS addresses these important topics and contemporary concerns. Researchers at our four research divisions investigate diverse issues across three major research areas.

Microbiome and Microbe-Host Interactions

We live in a microbial world. Microbes are the dominant form of life – the most abundant and diverse of all organisms. All other life depends on microbes and the functions they perform, such as oxygen production, nitrogen cycling and degradation of organic carbon. Because microbes are also the most ancient organisms, all other life evolved on a planet already teeming with complex microbial communities. The lives of modern plants and animals, including humans, are therefore intricately intertwined with those of the smallest organisms around them, and microbes are often key to the wellbeing of their larger hosts.


Microbial Ecology and Ecosystems

Microorganisms are of critical importance for all global biogeochemical cycles and for food chains in terrestrial, aquatic and engineered ecosystems. At CeMESS, we study the structure and function of environmental microbiomes and the resulting flows of nutrient elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. These topics are investigated across scales, from the level of whole ecosystem processes, to the ecophysiology and biochemistry of single microbial species. We aim at a deeper understanding of how microorganisms contribute to ecosystem functions and how environmental microbiomes can be optimally utilised in engineered ecosystems, such as in wastewater treatment.


Global Change and Environmental Processes

Environmental systems are in a state of constant change, especially due to human activities. At CeMESS, our aim is to identify, elucidate and model processes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to understand how they are impacted by anthropogenic influence. More specifically, we explore questions concerning changes in biogeochemical cycles, their feedback to the climate, and the dynamics of pollutants. This allows a comprehensive understanding of complex environmental processes and the human influence on them, which is crucial for future societal decisions.