The diversity of microorganisms on Diversity Day

Diversity Day 2023

| by Charlotte Fuchs

When looking at microbial diversity. Source: Charlotte Fuchs / Leibniz-HKI

A colorful variety of booths and events attracted numerous people to the city center of Jena on Tuesday for Diversity Day under the motto #gemeinsameinganzes. Leibniz-HKI was on site with a joint booth with Balance of the Microverse, Jenaversum, Leibniz-FLI and Beutenberg-Campus e.V.. With people from 51 nations, Leibniz-HKI shows great diversity. But not only the people are diverse here.

On Diversity Day, visitors and casual passers-by were able to marvel at the diversity of microorganisms. Bacteria and fungi grown in petri dishes were displayed and presented themselves in a variety of colors and shapes. The postcards to take home also showed how different and often pretty microbes can be. The young visitors had fun coloring bacteria and the older ones could read what some scientists of the Leibniz-HKI and the Cluster of Excellence Balance of the Microverse have to say about the diversity of microbes.

Understanding and preserving

Enlarged, some bacteria show up as jolly fellwos and require concentration when coloring. Source: Charlotte Fuchs / Leibniz-HKI

"The diversity of fungi is still largely unexplored," says Grit Walther of the National Reference Center for Invasive Fungal Infections at Leibniz-HKI. Through DNA analyses, we now know that many fungi defined by their appearance actually consist of several, very similar species. It is estimated that there are up to 3.8 million fungal species worldwide, but only 120,000 of them have been described. By comparison, plants have a total of only 390,000 species.

It is important to Kerstin Voigt to preserve fungal diversity. "In the Jena Microbial Resource Collection, we are researching the biodiversity of fungi and bacteria, some of which cause diseases, but which also produce many exciting substances" The diversity makes it possible to find new pathways. For example, the fungus Lichtheimia corymbifera, which can cause severe infection, could be established as a model organism. And that was only because the planned experimental setup with the originally selected fungus did not work and L. corymbifera cultures were just growing in the lab. "A bonanza," as it later turned out.

Genetic diversity

Fascination in small hands. Source: Charlotte Fuchs / Leibniz-HKI

Gianni Panagiotou, Microverse professor and group leader at Leibniz-HKI, states: "Within the kingdom of life, humans are spectacularly not diverse...". While the genetic difference between any two Homo sapiens is just 0.01%, he said, it can be as much as 50% for two random E. coli bacteria, for example.

Amelia Barber has studied these genetic differences in Aspergillus fumigatus: "Studying the genetic diversity of a microorganism gives us a chance to better understand its pathogenic diversity, which helps us better manage these infections." She cites Aspergillus fumigatus as an example. Whether this fungus causes an infection is highly dependent on the immune strength of the infected individual. But the genetic variance of the fungus itself also plays a role, for example in virulence. "Here we have observed strong genetic variation in many virulence-associated genes."


Amelia Barber
Gianni Panagiotou
Kerstin Voigt
Grit Walther