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SFB 987 - an overview

Microorganisms are omnipresent in the biosphere and provide the greatest diversity of life on our planet. They successfully colonize almost every possible ecological niche, regardless of welcoming or hostile conditions, either as highly specialized individual cells, as microbial communities or by forming complex multi-cellular structures. A key factor for their success in colonizing varying habitats is the enormous biochemical, physiological and cellular adaptation potential of microorganisms in response to countless environmental conditions and cues. By generating microbial species with unique metabolic and cellular attributes, microbial diversity is the answer to the demands of evolution. This sets the stage for their ability to adapt to changing conditions within a given ecosystem and to explore new opportunities in novel environmental settings. For most microorganisms there is only one certainty: change!

As a consequence, microorganisms have developed an array of specialized mechanisms that enable both individual cells and cellular communities to recognize environmental changes with high sensitivity and specificity. Microorganisms are “cognitive systems” in the sense that they can integrate and interpret the information gleaned from their signal detection devices. This allows them to mount in a timely manner appropriate genetic, physiological and cellular adaptive responses in order to successfully meet the challenges and to exploit the opportunities arising from changing environmental conditions.

Within the framework of SFB 987, microbiology-focused research teams working at the Philipps-University and the local Max-Planck-Institute for terrestrial Microbiology jointly focus their research efforts on “Microbial Diversity in Environmental Signal Response”. This topic was chosen to significantly advance the current knowledge about the ability of microorganisms – either as individual cells, as consortia or in contact with eukaryotic cells - to interrogate and interpret environmental conditions and to react with situation-conforming adaptive responses. Understanding the mechanisms of such diverse responses to signal perception is crucial for the understanding of the functioning of both individual microbial cells and entire microbial ecosystems and for the long-term evolution of microbial species. These responses are expected to be as varied as the microorganisms that elicit them and can only be grasped comprehensively by studying a larger set of microorganisms and fungi. Only by knowing their range of variability can we begin to ask why they are chosen and which advantages they provide.