The Art of Harnessing Dark Energy: Symbioses between Chemosynthetic Bacteria and Marine Invertebrates
  • Lecture Theatre 1, Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth | Arrivals from 17:30

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The 2019 PlyMSEF Medal Lecture will be given by Nicole Dubilier from the Symbiosis Department, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany.

Symbioses between chemosynthetic bacteria and marine invertebrates were first discovered at hydrothermal vents in the deep sea but are now known to occur in a wide range of habitats including coral reef sediments, seagrass beds, cold seeps and sunken whale carcasses. In these nutritional associations, the bacterial symbionts use chemical energy sources such as hydrogen sulfide to fix CO2 into organic compounds and feed their hosts. Chemosynthetic symbioses have evolved multiple times in convergent evolution from numerous bacterial lineages, and occur in at least nine protist and animal groups such as ciliates, flatworms, mussels, clams, snails, annelids, and nematodes.

Similar to Darwin's finches, whose beaks have evolved different shapes and forms as an adaptation to different food sources, the symbionts of hosts from chemosynthetic environments have acquired a wide and flexible repertoire of assimilation pathways in adaptation to the energy and carbon sources available in their environment. Intriguingly, this flexibility appears to have been gained through horizontal gene transfer. 

In her talk, Nicole will describe how the institute's meta'omic' analyses of symbionts from deep-sea, hydrothermal vent mussels have revealed that horizontal gene transfer and symbiont diversity play a key role in the ecology and evolution of these host-microbe associations.

This free lecture is open to all but booking is required via the above link. The lecture starts at 18:00 (arrivals from 17:30). Please contact for queries or further information.

About PlyMSEF

PlyMSEF is a charitable body established to advance education in marine science and related subjects. Its work is overseen by trustees from marine organisations across Plymouth, including Professor Richard Thompson OBE from the University of Plymouth Marine institute.

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Nicole Dubilier is a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany where she heads the Symbiosis Department, and is a Professor for Microbial Symbiosis at the University of Bremen. She moved from the USA to Germany as a teenager and gained her PhD in Marine Zoology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. After a two year postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, she joined the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in 1997. Nicole’s lab studies the diversity, ecology, and evolution of symbioses between bacteria and marine invertebrates from chemosynthetic environments such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, whale and wood falls, upwelling regions, and coastal sediments. Her group uses a wide array of methods to study chemosynthetic symbioses that range from deep-sea in situ tools to molecular, 'omic' and imaging analyses.

Nicole's recent awards and honours include the Leibniz Prize in 2014 (Germany's most prestigious research prize), a Gordon and Betty Moore Marine Microbial Initiative Investigator Award in 2013, and a European Research Council Advanced Grant in 2013. She was elected a Fellow of the German National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina) in 2015, of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2013, was the Chair of the American Society of Microbiology annual meetings in 2016 and 2017, and is the incoming President of the International Society of Microbial Ecology.

Nicole Dubilier

PlyMSEF Medal Lecture 2019 speaker
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