Max Emil Schön

PhD Student


After finishing highschool I wanted to study something in the intersection between biology, geology and environmental sciences. So I started to study Geoecology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. I enjoyed the multidisciplinarity of the program, but I focused more and more on the biology of plant symbiotic fungi. I especially became intrigued by using sequencing data and phylogenetics to understand evolutionary patterns as well as discover the largely hidden biodiversity of microscopical organisms.

After my Bachelor’s thesis on phylogenetics it was clear to me that a much more profound knowledge on algorithms and analysis methods was needed to make use of the full potential of the increasingly massive sequencing data. I therefore started two parallel Master’s degrees, one in Geoecology and one in Bioinformatics. After several Introductory courses in Bioinformatics I finally felt comfortable in the terminal as well with different types of programming languages. I finished both degrees in 2016 with a combined Master’s thesis on metabarcoding methods for the assessment of microbial fungal diversity. Since October 2016 I am a PhD student here at the Ettema-lab.

Main Research Interests
My PhD project is part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie SINGEK ( training network, involving several research groups across Europe. The main focus of my project is to use Single Cell Genomics (and Transcriptomics) as well as Metagenomics data to investigate the early evolutionary history of eukaryotes. An additional focus will be laid on the evolutionary relationships between protists and their organelles. I will use state of the art phylogenomics and comparative genomics approaches to investigate the signal of evolution present in today’s prokaryotes and (basal) eukaryotes. Current developments in Single Cell Sequencing and Metagenomics allow us to gather vast amounts of data on unculturable and thus previously unknown organisms. Using these sequences we search for early diverging lineages to resolve the topology at the base of the eukaryotic tree of life.

Together with the other students involved in SINGEK our aim is to promote the application of cultivation-independent methods to study eukaryotic evolution, including the development of new lab techniques, new computational methods specific for this type of data as well as theoretical work on the origin of eukaryotes.

Additional Research Interests
Besides my work here at the Ettema-lab I am interested in the diversity an ecology of both plants and fungi. I have been involved in several field trips to the Arctic, the european alps as well as the most southern part of the american continent, and I am fascinated by the hardiness that those organisms have evolved to survive in those environments.