Uni Vienna: New Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science at the University of Vienna

With the establishment of the new Centre on March 1, 2019, the University of Vienna will grow from 19 to 20 Faculties and Centres. The new Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science brings together 15 working groups, and addresses two key scientific disciplines of the 21st century with enormous potential for synergy across disciplines. The Centre, headed by microbiologist Michael Wagner, will lead the way in world-class research with a focus on the topic of microbiomes in medicine and the environment.

According to Rector Heinz W. Engl, "By creating this new Centre, the University of Vienna will place itself at the forefront of this emerging research field. In addition, the integration of the new Centre into the Vienna Biocenter campus in St. Marx, planned for 2021, will further strengthen Vienna as a top address for the life sciences".

The new Centre is a 'hotspot' for microbiology and environmental systems science in the international research landscape. "We are in a unique position; the Centre unites researchers that share a common vision of creating a world-class environment for research on themes of the utmost relevance and urgency in today’s world, including those at the intersection between microbiome research and biomedicine, bioinformatics and ecology, and environmental pollutants", announced Centre Head Michael Wagner. "We are creating a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment where staff, scientists and students together develop innovative and transformative approaches in fundamental research."

Microbiomes in medicine and the environment

The uniting theme of the new Centre is research on the 'microbiome', the entire complement of bacteria, archaea, single-celled eukaryotes, fungi and viruses that make up microbial communities in medical and environmental settings. Within this uniting theme, scientists at the new Centre focus on medically relevant research topics such as predicting the outcome of infections, and the development of new treatments based on the microbiome, but also on topics of biotechnological and ecological relevance. For example, major research foci include understanding the role of microbes in driving Earth’s nutrient cycles and for the production and transformation of climate-relevant gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, and the links between microbial activity and effective functioning of municipal wastewater treatment. Symbiosis, the association between microbes and other organisms such as plants, animals and single-celled organisms, is also strong focus of researchers at the Centre.

Research excellence

"Microbiology, Ecosystem Science, and Environmental Science are already fields in which the University of Vienna is exceptionally strong", says environmental geoscientist Thilo Hofmann. "Bringing together these 15 research groups to a new Centre will open up new opportunities and new joint research themes such as the impact of microbial activity on environmental pollutants, biogeochemical cycling, or microplastics and nanoparticles in the environment. It is also an opportunity to develop new and innovative solutions for environmental problems."

"Microorganisms play a central role in a multitude of processes in the Earth system. Understanding their activities is an essential foundation for targeted solutions that use microbial activities to benefit environmental health. Core goals of the new Centre include understanding the role of microorganisms in preventing climate change, or in maintaining the health of our soils, and thus ensuring agricultural output and food security into the future", added ecologist Andreas Richter.

Outstanding research infrastructure

Research and teaching at the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Sciences is supported by the advanced infrastructure available at the Centre, which includes a NanoSIMS for functional analyses of microbes in the environment, and high-end mass spectrometry for detection of trace elements, rare isotopes and nanomaterials in the environment. The new multi-university Joint Microbiome Facility of the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna, established in Fall 2018, will be anchored in the new Centre, providing strong links between basic research and clinical applications in microbiology.

Once the University of Vienna’s new 'Biozentrum' building is completed, most researchers in the new Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science will move to this dynamic life science campus in Vienna’s third district. The Centre’s researchers will profit from new links to Institutes such as the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, and the Institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences including the Gregor Mendel Institute for Molecular Plant Biology. According to Michael Wagner "the proximity to the Vienna BioCenter will be a great advantage for our research".

Microbial Biochemistry, Microbial Viruses and Machine Learning

The new Centre is already expanding research activities in the fields of Microbial Biochemistry by initiatives such as a newly established joint professorship with the Faculty of Chemistry, which is already strongly linked to the Centre through a shared Research Network. Additional research avenues that will be actively strengthened in the new Centre include viruses of microbes (called 'phages'), bio- and environmental informatics, new applications of machine learning, and research in critical zone sciences, which strives to understand systems and processes at or near the Earth’s surface.

Researchers at the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science are currently integrated into teaching at the Bachelor and Masters level in a number of fields including Ecology, Microbiology and Environmental Sciences. The new Centre brings together the Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science, and the Department of Environmental Geosciences. It includes 6 ERC grantees of the University of Vienna, three 'highly cited researchers' in worldwide rankings, and its members represent more than 25 nationalities.

More information: https://cmess.univie.ac.at/

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