Max Planck Fellow Group Plankton Community Interaction

Further detailed research objectives

The detailed investigation of chemical heterogeneity of bloom-forming algae as well as the effects of heterogeneity in ecological interactions is the objective of the Fellow team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

MS-imaging methods that have recently been developed in our lab serve as a basis for the refinement and evaluation of single cell chemical profiling. Since phytoplankton blooms include cells of every age (just recently divided cells to dying ones) and since age also influences the chemical properties of cells this factor will be an important contributor to the bloom’s functional heterogeneity. We answer the question how this population wide heterogeneity is reflected in the metabolome of the single cells. We then link this heterogeneity in functional bioassays to cell-specific performance. 

Induced changes, such as an interaction-triggered chemical response serve as initiators to induce metabolite production by single cells. Specific induction protocols are used to induce chemical responses and to monitor them with population wide (metabolomics) and single cell (imaging MS) resolution.

MS signatures of diatom cells reveal species specific Imaging Mass Spectrometry signatures.

Once these experiments with uniclonal algal strains are established, we will increase the complexity of the system to mirror the situation in the natural plankton. This includes e.g. the evaluation of variability of different clones within a bloom, the monitoring of interacting algal species  as well as the addition of herbivores or pathogens.

This chemical characterization on a cellular level will be the basis for ecological experiments targeted to elucidate the role of heterogeneity in natural situations.

Co-culturing (left) and manipulation of natural communities in mesocosms (right) are central tools to verify the significance of identified chemically mediated interactions.