The Thünen Institute is a German Federal Research Institute under the auspices of the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture. It was founded in 2008 from three previous agencies. The headquarters are in Braunschweig. The Thünen Institute comprises 14 institutes: One of them is the Thünen Institute of Biodiversity, which investigates the diversity and functional role of plants, animals and microorganisms in agroecosystems and how they respond to agricultural management practices, environmental perturbations and long-term environmental changes.
The working group “Soil Microbiology and Molecular Ecology”, headed by Christoph C. Tebbe, analyses the link between diversity and functioning of microbiomes (microbial communities), and it mainly uses nucleic acid based technologies (metagenomics and transcriptomics) for their studies. Research over the last decade has revealed that microbiomes provide many beneficial services to health and ecosystem functions. Thus microbiomes can be regarded as protection goals. In VIROPLANT, the working group analyses the impact of phages on the composition and functions provided by natural microbiomes as they occur in plants, on plants, and/or in the soil component influenced by activities of plant roots, i.e., the rhizosphere. The research will look for potential unintended effects on beneficial non-target microorganisms and/or shifts in the microbial community composition, caused directly or indirectly by applying phage-related products for pest control. Thereby this research supports an environmental risk assessment, which is required before phage products may enter the market.