Isotope Biogeochemistry. Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ

Department of Isotope Biogeochemistry

What is the role of biogeochemical processes in the functionality of sustainably managed ecosystems? How can stable isotope readings assist the understanding of the fate of chemicals in anoxic environments such as soil-aquifer systems, freshwater and deep-sea sediments and bioreactors? How do the structure, function, activity and regulation of micro-organisms and microbial communities govern the cycling of elements in the environment, from single cell level up to field scale.

To answer these and many other questions, we need to understand the activity of single cells as well as communities of cells in complex environments and the fate of chemicals under in-situ relevant conditions. Concepts and tools are therefore required to trace the fate of chemicals and to analyse the microbiota and their interactions with the environment.

Our tools and methods in the Department of Isotope Biochemistry (ISOBIO) are innovative combinations of anaerobic cultivation, compound specific stable isotope analysis, molecular biology, high-resolution mass spectrometry for the analysis of proteins and metabolites and correlative chemical microscopy. We employ high-resolution imaging techniques (SIMS) in combination with stable isotope and chemical analytics as indicators of biogeochemical processes. We are experts in microbial reductive dehalogenation and anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation, in situ microcosms with isotope-marked substances in soils and groundwater, (BACTRAPs), stable isotope analytics for forensic questions and isotope fractionation studies for characterising biogeochemical processes. Integral to the Department of Isotope Biogeochemistry are the cutting-edge analytics of the Stable Isotope Lab and  ProVIS - Centre for Chemical Microscopy.

In our research we are developing new isotope and microscopy techniques for the investigation of biogeochemical processes. We want to understand the anaerobic microbiological processes involved in the natural attenuation of hydrocarbons and halogenated organic compounds and the new "emerging contaminants" in various ecosystems on the microbiological, biochemical and genetic level in order to quantify ecosystems services. For example, we aim to fundamentally understand key degraders such as Dehalococcoides mccartyi involved in the detoxification of organohalides and synthrophic interactions in microbial communities leading to hydrocarbon removal and the biogeochemical cycles of C, N, P, S and various metals in terrestrial systems. We analyse microbially-mediated corrosion to mitigate damage to gas and oil infrastructure. Knowledge of mineral corrosion helps us to develop bioleaching processes with which to extract metals and rare earth elements.

Overall, we aim to understand and analyse biochemical reactions from single cell via biofilm up to field scale.