Main Content

Research Focus: Microbes as Drivers of Climate Change: Evolution of the Biological Carbon Cycle.

Microbial mat
Photo: Microcosm Earth Center / Katharina Neumüller

Microorganisms were the first life forms that emerged, and with them the biological ability to capture and convert CO2. This has affected the global carbon cycle until today, with microbes converting 200 Gt CO2 and 2 Gt CH4 annually. Even though we have geochemical and fossil records about these events, our understanding about the underlying enzymology and the fundamental molecular principles paving the way to these transitions is practically non-existent.

In the Microbes-for-Climate initiative, we will use the methods of evolutionary reconstruction microbiology to rebuild these history-changing transitions in the global carbon cycle. We will leverage ancient forms of key microbial enzymes and pathways to answer fundamental questions in the molecular evolution of the global carbon cycle: How did greenhouse gas-converting enzymes and pathways emerge? What enabled the success of certain processes and what limited the evolution of alternative carbon metabolism in a given environment?

We will reveal the molecular details of some of the most consequential events in the history of life on earth. At the same time, we will provide the theoretical framework to understand the adaptation and evolution of CO2/CH4-converting processes (Research Focus: Microbes as Responders) and provide new strategies to engineer new-to-nature solutions for the future with synthetic biology (Research Focus: Microbes providing Solutions).

Cooperation Partners