Department Environmental Microbiology

Microbial Systems Ecology

Research areas

The focus of our research group is on basic questions on bacterial ecology and evolution: on the biological significance of phenotypic heterogeneity in clonal populations, on interactions within and between species, and on how bacteria cope with ever-changing environments. Our goal is to work on basic principles with model systems in the laboratory, and then to test these principles in more natural situations.

The group often works at the level of single cells, and asks how this perspective provides insights that could not be obtained by population experiments. One of the current specific interests is on how stochastic gene expression can promote the emergence of different phenotypes in clonal populations, and in how this shapes interactions within and between different strains and species.

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Group Leader

Selected Publications

Moreno-Gámez, S.; Kiviet, D. J.; Vulin, C.; Schlegel, S.; Schlegel, K.; van Doorn, G. S.; Ackermann, M. (2020) Wide lag time distributions break a trade-off between reproduction and survival in bacteria, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, 117(31), 18729-18736, doi:10.1073/pnas.2003331117, Institutional Repository
Dal Co, A.; van Vliet, S.; Kiviet, D. J.; Schlegel, S.; Ackermann, M. (2020) Short-range interactions govern the dynamics and functions of microbial communities, Nature Ecology & Evolution, 4, 366-375, doi:10.1038/s41559-019-1080-2, Institutional Repository
Gorter, F. A.; Manhart, M.; Ackermann, M. (2020) Understanding the evolution of interspecies interactions in microbial communities, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1798), 20190256 (13 pp.), doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0256, Institutional Repository
D'Souza, G. G. (2020) Phenotypic variation in spatially structured microbial communities: ecological origins and consequences, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 62, 220-227, doi:10.1016/j.copbio.2019.12.013, Institutional Repository


In order to better understand natural processes and also to be able to better control the activities of microbial communities in technical systems such as wastewater treatment plants, we need to understand how microbial communities work.
Differences between individual cells can be important for biological processes.
Individual variation and cellular memory help bacteria deal with environmental fluctuations.
Even without genetic resistance bacteria can be tolerant to antibiotics.