Labs at Location - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)

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Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)

Isotope Biochemistry

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The research of the department of Isotope Biogeochemistry focuses on the application of stable isotope techniques to characterize the biogenic transformation of organic chemicals in soils and aquifers and to anaerobic biodegradation of organic contaminants.

At the Department of Isotope Biogeochemistry we aim to comprehensively understand biogeochemical processes and functionality for a sustainable management of the environment. We use an interdisciplinary approach including geology, chemistry, microbiology, and biochemistry.
As tools & methods we use innovative combinations of anaerobic cultivation, molecular biology, proteomics, SIMS/chemical microscopy, in conjunction with cutting edge stable isotope analytics. We are experts in reductive dehalogenation, BTEX biotransformation, BACTRAPs, stable isotope analytics and fractionation, and Dehalococcoides related topics.

Main Research Areas

  • Structure, function and activity of microorganisms and microbial communities
  • Fate of organic compounds in the environment e.g. contaminated soil-aquifer systems and deep sea sediments
  • Cycling of elements such as C, N, S, Cl, H, O, Br

Research Groups

  • Organohalide Geomicrobiology

    We investigate the anaerobic microbial transformation of halogenated organic contaminants in contaminated aquifers and at surface-groundwater interfaces. We investigate the interactions of the microbiology with the environment, develop new approaches using compound specific stable isotope analysis for the in situ assessment of biodegradation and for the understanding of the reaction mechanisms.


  • Aquifer Biogeochemistry

    We investigate microbial processes of major element cycles (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, sulphur) in subsurface systems, especially those taking place in the absence of molecular oxygen. Special emphasis is placed on questions related to biodegradation of hydrocarbons; we aim to elucidate degradation pathways and to identify key degraders in model cultures and under in situ conditions at contaminated sites. State-of-the-art stable isotope methods – compound specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) and stable isotope probing (SIP) – are essential tools of our experimental research. A strong cooperation with several departments of the UFZ and external partners is a central point of our working group.

    Acquifer Bacteria
  • Genomics and Biochemistry
    CBDB1 Cell

    We investigate anaerobic respiratory processes in model cultures and subterrestrial environments. We have a special interest in anaerobic respiration with external electron acceptors. One such respiration is the organohalide respiration with halogenated solvents such as perchloroethene or chlorinated benzenes. However, also other significant biogeochemical respiratory reactions are investigated. We develop, adapt and apply microbiological, biochemical, molecular and genomic tools for our research.

  • ProVis Center

    Our research is focused on visualization and quantification of microbial mediated processes and the role of microorganisms in C, N, S and metal transformation in natural and polluted environments. The aim is in situ analysis of function, structure and identity of microorganisms involved in e.g. corrosion, bioleaching and biomineralization and how single cell metabolism is impacting the ecosystem functioning.


  • Isotope Lab

    The main focus of application is the investigation of the fate of organic chemicals in the environment, including assessment of in situ (bio)-degradation, elucidation of transformation pathways and forensic studies.
    New technological and methodological developments for online stable isotope analysis of organic compounds is the core focus of our research. The LSI is expert in standardization and quality assurance strategies for stable isotope analysis and participates in several international projects.