EcoMol is a state-funded PhD Research Training Group, involving 15 PhD students at the University of Oldenburg and Jade University in Wilhelmshaven. T. Dittmar is main PI and coordinator. EcoMol started in October 2016 for a duration of four years. With EcoMol we introduce and advance a new conceptual framework that extends ecological principles to the non-living molecular environment, the “ecology of molecules”. The ecology of molecules understands organic matter as populations of compounds that interact with communities of organisms in a mutual way. This novel scientific framework merges the classical disciplines of ecology and geochemistry. This concept was originally developed in 2014 at a DFG-funded international workshop at the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study (www.h-w-k.de), where experts in aquatic microbial ecology and organic geochemistry met. The 15 work packages of EcoMol study DOM-microbe interactions on various levels of complexity. In the most simplified scenario, only abiotic processes are considered, excluding biotic and enzymatic reactions. At the next level of complexity, single strains of organisms excrete and metabolize molecules. True ecological interactions between organisms, and molecules and organisms are considered at the next level of experimental settings (e.g. in 2018 in large-scale mesocosm experiments at the planktotron facility at ICBM in Wilhelmshaven). In addition, different marine environments are studied in field studies. Interdisciplinary teams crossing the traditional boundaries between chemistry, biology, mathematics, and engineering work jointly together at most levels.
List of people involved: