Senckenberg am Meer Wilhelmshaven

Molecular Taxonomy


Aims of work                                                                                                

In April 2010, the new junior research working “Molecular Taxonomy of Marine Organisms” was established at the Senckenberg am Meer Institute in Wilhelmshaven as part of the German Centre for Marine Biodiversity Research department (DZMB). The project, funded with more than two million Euros by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and the State of Lower Saxony, has set itself the task of laying the foundations for the characterization and determination of marine biodiversity and developing new methods for accelerating the process of registering biodiversity. The object of investigation is not a distant tropical sea or deep sea region, but the local waters of the North Sea and adjacent regions. Interestingly, most species of the North Sea have not been studied using molecular methods. For six years the team will carry out a molecular survey and develop and evaluate molecular methods for species identification. All processed specimens as well as DNA samples are stored in in-house collections and DNA banks to ensure a long-term storage and complete documentation of all worked-up organisms.


DNA barcoding

One focus of the working group is the build-up of a comprehensive DNA barcode library of the Metazoa of the North Sea, with a specific focus on economical and ecological relevant species. Beside typical taxa of marine barcoding studies, e.g. fish or decapod crustaceans, our on-growing library also includes groups that are often ignored, e.g. echinoderms, cnidarians, gastrotrichs, and pycnogonids. For the extremely small organisms of the Meiofauna, extraction methods and amplification protocols have been modified so that even tiny individuals of only a few hundred µm in size can be identified successfully.



In situ hybridization

The junior research group is also devoting its attention to the development of methods for staining using oligonucleotide probes. These are short, artificially generated nucleotide sequences that interact species-specific with hypervariable regions of the 18S RNA of the ribosomes. Finally, such probes produce a staining that is visible to the naked eye. During the last months, various oligonucleotide probes for some important commercial fish species of the North Sea have been developed. These probes are now tested in the field for the identification of fish eggs tissue samples by staining. Furthermore, we also evaluate the usefulness of oligonucleotide probes for species identification of the zooplankton.



Next generation sequencing

The availability of next-generation sequencing platforms and the ecologists' need for high-throughput taxon identification have facilitated the emergence of DNA metabarcoding based on environmental samples. In this context, we evaluate the utility of such approaches to document marine species diversity with a special focus on potential problems and pitfalls.



Analysis of proteome data

hile the analysis of proteome data based on matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) for successful species identification are quite common in microbiology for years, studies focusing on metazoan species are still rare. First pioneering studies reveal the high potential of this approach for the identification of planktonic copepod species in the North Sea. Therefore it is planned to analyze other taxa using this promising method the following years.       




With the Molecular Taxonomy Research we contribute to the following Research Field: 

Biodiversity and Systematics