Michael Schloter is new professor for environmental microbiology

Research, Campus, Studies |

Michael Schloter has been appointed to the TUM School of Life Science in June 2023. At the same time, he heads the department "Comparative Microbiome Analysis" at Helmholtz Munich. In this short interview, he reports on what he is currently working on, what is important to him in his exchange with students, and what practical relevance his work has.

Portrait of Michael Schloter
Prof. Michael Schloter has been teaching at the TUM School of Life Sciences in Freising-Weihenstephan since June. (Image: Helmholtz Munich / @Matthias Tunger Photodesign)

What exciting research projects are you working on?

Microbiomes are a crucial component of the "One Health" concept. They play an extremely important role in ecosystem functioning and perform key functions that support the health of the planet, including nutrient cycling, climate regulation, and water filtration. Microbiomes also form so-called metaorganisms with almost all higher eukaryotes, including animals, plants, and us humans, and perform important roles in the health of their respective hosts. Although we are beginning to understand that microbiomes interact with each other in different ecosystems, little research has been done on how microbiomes from different environments influence each other.

Microbiome transfer, for example, occurs between and within abiotic (e.g., air, soil, and water) and biotic environments and can be mediated either by various vectors (e.g., insects or food) or by direct interactions. Such transmission processes may include the transfer of pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes. Most often, however, microbial interactions have positive implications for planetary and human health because the transferred microorganisms, which may provide new functions, can be important for ecosystem adaptation.

We are investigating how changes in microbiomes in the environment, directly and indirectly affect our human microbiome and what functional consequences can be derived from these altered interactions.

On what topic would you like to have a casual discussion with students?

When students hear the word "microbiology," they often think of terribly complicated names of microorganisms and complex incomprehensible metabolic pathways. I would like to change this image and show our students how important microorganisms are not only for the preservation of planet "Earth", but also for the health of every individual. I would like every student to think not only of beautiful animals, plants and insects when they think of "biodiversity conservation", but also of the diversity of microorganisms that provide us with invaluable services and form the basis of our lives.

And how does practice benefit from your research findings?

Microbial diversity is enormous and so far we know the main physiological characteristics of less than 5% of the planet's microorganisms. But if we want to use microbial diversity to sustain life on Earth, we need to identify the microorganisms that perform core functions, try to isolate them and then implement them in targeted applications in medicine, biotechnology or agriculture. We have already achieved initial success in this area, identifying new probiotics for humans and for use in agriculture.

Publications by Prof. Michael Schloter:

Harris, E. et al. Denitrifying pathways dominate nitrous oxide emissions from managed grassland during drought and rewetting. Sci. Adv. 7:eabb7118 (2021).

Berg, G. et al. Microbiome definition re-visited: old concepts and new challenges. Microbiome 8, 103 (2020).

Schulze-Makuch, D. et al. Transitory microbial habitat in the hyperarid Atacama Desert. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115, 2670-2675 (2018).

Soliveres S. et al. Biodiversity at multiple trophic levels is needed for ecosystem multifunctionality; Nature 536: 456 – 459 8 (2016).

Leininger, S. et al. Archaea predominate among ammonium oxidizing prokaryotes in soil, Nature 442: 806 - 809 (2006).

More information:

Professorship overview of the TUM School of Life Sciences:  https://www.ls.tum.de/ls/ueber-uns/professuren/professuren-department-life-science-systems/#c7701
Website of  Helmholtz Munich: https://www.helmholtz-munich.de/en/comi/pi/michael-schloter
Professorship website: www.lss.ls.tum.de/emicro/

Susanne Neumann
TUM School of Life Sciences
Press Officer

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter
TUM School of Life Sciences
Chair of Environmental Microbiology