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  • Dr. Maria Dittrich
  • Associate Professor
  • Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough
  • Earth Sciences Department (Cross-appointment), University of Toronto
  • Associate Graduate Faculty at the Centre for Environment
  • Phone: (416) 208-2786
  • Email:

Biogeochemistry Group:

It is my primary research goal to characterize the interplay between ecology and key geochemical processes. In my scientific approach, I would like to develop an interdisciplinary research program on the biogeochemistry of carbon and iron in aquatic environments. Such work is a fundamental prerequisite for the development of realistic models of carbon cycling and for effective implementation of bioremediation techniques.

Current research topics

Cells/Minerals Interaction in aquatic systems: role of exo-polymeric substances

Interactions between microorganisms and their environments were crucial to the origin and the evolution of life and continue to dominate the geo/biosphere exchanges. Bacteria can regulate the chemistry of their immediate environment. In turn, the environment affects the ecology and the structure of microbial communities. Understanding biomineralization mechanisms in modern microbial communities hold keys to the interpretation of geological records. Biominerals differ in shape from inorganically grown crystals. The ability of bacteria to make crystalline structures and to stabilize them is an intriguing problem which will be addressed in my research program.

Images of biofilms from an extreme environment (courtesy to Professor J. A. McKenzie, ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

Analyzing the deposition of nano-structured minerals

Microbial activity often causes the formation of nanoscale-sized minerals; consequently, a significant part of my research activity will focus on the formation of nano-crystals. Such particles are known to transport pollutants due to their large surface to volume ratio and their ubiquitous abundance in the environment. Of special interest are mixed organic-nano-particle materials as exemplified in bacteria/minerals systems. One of the key questions in this context concerns the role of surface macromolecules: lipids, proteins for nano-mineral nucleation.

Early diagenesis in freshwater ecosystems

Close to the sediment-water interface intensive microbiological, geochemical and physical processes determine the fraction of organic mater, solid compounds, dissolved nutrients and pollutants, which is released to the overlying water. Detailed knowledge of the processes occurring in the top few centimeters of the sediment is essential for the assessment of water quality and the management of surface waters. However, in-situ investigations of the processes are often difficult to make. We apply a modeling approach combing reactive-transport modeling with system and data analysis. The obtained knowledge will improve predictions of sediment system behaviour and ultimately enhance the outcomes of lake management activities.


Images from the field study on Lake Superior

Mechanism of carbonates precipitation

Stromatolites and laminated structures, considered to have developed as microbial mats, are widely found occurring in sedimentary rocks deposited throughout the geologic record and are considered to be the earliest representation of life on Earth, being found in sedimentary rocks as old as 3.45 Ga. However, our understanding of the biotic and abiotic processes controlling the mechanisms of lamination formation, textures and growth rates remains poor.

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EESC15S        Research Seminar in Environmental Science, 2009

EESA11H3      Environmental Pollution, 2010-present

EESC18H3      The Great Lakes: Introduction to Physical and Chemical Limnology, 2010-present

EESC1127H    Geomicrobiology and Biogeochemistry, 2010-present

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Laboratory equipment and services

Atomic Force Microscopy and Raman Spectroscopy (NT-MDT Ntegra Spectra)


Sediment Geochemistry

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December 2014





Group Leader :

       Maria Dittrich

Research Associates

    Stefan Markovic
    2015 - present

Postdoctoral fellows


        Dr. Kim Phuong Doan

      Research interest:

      Numerical modelling and Biogeochemistry for Lake compartment and

      Sediment compartment.

        Dr. Maryam Tavafoghi Jahromi
        Dr. Jiying Li


Graduate Students

        PhD students

      Carlos Paulo PhD thesis: 2011 - 2016

      Research interest:

      (1) the role of microbial surfaces on crystal nucleation;

      (2) the development of analytical techniques based on FTIR and Raman microscopy to identify biominerals and monitor biomineralization in situ;

      (4) control of microbial surface properties and (4) biomining and biorecovery of metals.

      Tingting Zhu PhD thesis: 2012 - 2017

      Research interest:

      My research interest is on the interactions between microbes and minerals, lying in two main areas:

      (1) Biomineralization of carbonates and silicates by cyanobacteria, and its potential application for concrete restoration;

      (2) Bioleaching of sulfide minerals in acid mine drainage.

      The techniques involving in my research are Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) coupled with Raman Spectroscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), Confocal and Epi- Fluorescence Microscopy, Scanning Transmission X-ray Microscopy (STXM), X-ray Absorption near Edge Structure (XANES), X-ray Absorption Fine Structure (XAFS), X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray Diffraction (XRD), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR),Potentiometric Titration, Zeta Potential, Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS) and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (ICP-MS).

      Christina Palermno PhD thesis: 2014-2019

      Research interest:

      Biomineralization by bacteria and viruses and the formation of metal-enriched layers in lake sediments.


      Sandra Berry PhD thesis: 2014 - 2019
      Ammar Al-Ibrahim PhD thesis: 2014 - 2019


      Zachary DiLoreto PhD thesis: 2016 - 2021


      Master Students 



      Undergraduate Students

         Oleksandra Kaskun

         Aryana Singh

         Preksha Surana

         Simon Tekle




  • Research Associates
  • 2012-2015 AnQi Liang

    2009-2012  Dr. Alexey Chesnuyk

    2010-2011  Dr. Zhou Yong

    2012-2013  Jianwen Chen

  • Postdoctoral fellows
  • 2010           Dr. Kerry Evans-Tokaryk

    2010-2013  Dr  Shahida Quazi

    2010-2011  Dr. Basirath Raoof


  • Master Students
  • 2009 Ibrar Khan, Role of pH, ionic strength and temperature on cadmium adsorption on cyanobacteria
  • 2010 Yiqing Liang, Effects of light and nutrient level on deep water phototrophic organisms from Lake Superior and Synechococcus sp.

  • 2010 Lee Moreau, Iron binding forms in sediments of Lake Superior

  • 2011 David Mahood, Impact of light on algal growth in bio-fuel reactors

  • 2011 Shubhra Aprajita, Impact of nutrients on algal growth for bio-fuel reactors

  • 2011 Anqi Liang, Linking cell surface functional groups and CaCO3 biomineralization: Insights with three Synechococcus strains

  • 2012 Jalene McCulloch, Dynamic Reactive-Transport Model of Phosphorus Diagenesis in Lake Simcoe Sediments

  • 2012 Rebecca Paul, Impacts of phosphorus stress on the cell surface properties in marine environments: A study conducted using the Synechococcus sp.

  • 2012 Jianwen Chen, Diagenetic modeling of sediments of Lake Superior

  • 2014 Qun Xie, Phosphorus release from sediments of Bay of Quinte

  • 2014 Yuchen Chen, Potential of calcification for production of bio-concrete

  • 2014 Christine Palermo, Geomicrobiology  of Manganese and Iron Layer in Lake Superior Sediment

  • Undergraduate Students
  • Beson Xie
  • Muhammad Adeel Khan
  • Huda Mahmood
  • Alah Amsdr
  • Ruslan Paliy
  • Fernando Contento
  • Visiting students
  • Letitia Silva
  • Visiting scientists
  • Zhanping Zhang
  • Navdeep Dhami

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Matisoff, G., Kaltenberg, E., Steely, R., Hummel, S., Seo, J., Gibbons, K., Bridgeman, T., Seo, Y.,  Behbahani, M., James, W., Johnson, L., Doan, P., Dittrich, M., Evans, M., Chffin, J. 2016. Internal Loading of Phosphorus in Western Lake Erie, Journal of Great Lakes Research, 42, 775-788

Palermo, C., Dittrich, M. 2016, Evidence for Biogenic Origin of the Mn-Enriched Layer in Lake Superior Sediments, Environmental Microbiology Reports, 8(2), 179-186

Zhu, T., Dittrich, M. 2016. Carbonate Precipitation through Microbial Activities in Natural environment, and Their Potential in Biotechnology: A Review, Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2016.00004

Gudimov, A. McCulloch, J., Chen, J., Doan, P., Arhonditsis, G., Dittrich, M. 2016. Modeling the interplay between deep water oxygen dynamics and sediment diagenesis in a hard-water mesotrophic lake, Ecological Informatics 31 (2016) 59–69

Dittrich, M., Moreau, L., Gordon, J., Quazi, S., Palermo, C., Fulthorpe, R., Katsev, S., Bollmann, J., Chesnyuk, A., 2015. Erratum to Geomicrobiology of Iron Layers in the Sediment of Lake Superior, Aquatic Geochemistry, 3, 18 p. Article in Press, DOI: 10.1007/s10498-015-9258-y

Dittrich, M., Moreau, L., Gordon, J., Quazi, S., Palermo, C., Fulthorpe, R., Katsev, S., Bollmann, J., Chesnyuk, A., 2015. Geomicrobiology of Iron Layers in the Sediment of Lake Superior, Aquatic Geochemistry, 3, 18 p. Article in Press, DOI: 10.1007/s10498-015-9258-y

Gudimov, A., Kim, D.-K., Young, J.D., Palmer, M.E., Dittrich, M., Winter, J.G., Stainsby, E., Arhonditsis, G.B., 2015. Examination of the role of dreissenids and macrophytes in the phosphorus dynamics of Lake Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, Ecological Informatics, 26 (P3), 36-53.

Arhonditsis, G.B., Dong-Kyun Kim, D.-K., Yuko Shimoda, Y., Weitao Zhang, W., Sue Watson, S., Mugalingam, S., Dittrich, M., Kristin Geater, K., McClure, K., Keene, B., Morley, A.,  Richards, A.,  Tanya Long,  T., Rao, Y.R., Kalinauskas, R. 2015. Integration of best management practices in the Bay of Quinte watershied with the phosphorus dynamics in the receiving water body:what do the models predict? Ecology of the Bay of Quinte: Health, Management and Global implications., Editors: M. Munawar, K. Minns, and M. Koops.

Paulo, C. and Dittrich, M. 2013. 2D-Raman spectroscopy study of dolomite and cyanobacterial extracellular polymeric substances from Khor Al-Adaid sabkha (Qatar), Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 44, 1563–1569

Liang, A., Paulo, C., Zhu, Y. and Dittrich, M. 2013. Calcium carbonate biomine¬ralization by cyanobacteria: marine and freshwater strains, Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, 111, 600-608

McGulloch, J., Chesnyuk, A., Gudimov, A., Arhonditsis, G. and Dittrich, M. 2013. Dynamic reactive-transport model of phosphorus diagenesis in Lake Simcoe sediments: uncertainty and identifiably study, Chemical Geology, 354, 216-232

Vasconcelos, C., Dittrich, M. and McKenzie, J.A. 2013. Evidence of microbiocoenosis in the formation of laminae in modern stromatolites, Facies, 60, 3–13

Katsev, S. and Dittrich, M., 2013, Modeling of decadal scale phosphorus retention in lake sediment under varying redox conditions, Ecological Modeling, 251, 246-259

Dittrich M., A. Chesnyuk, A. Gudimov, J. McCulloch, S. Quaizi, J. Young, J. Winter, E. Stainsby, and G. Arhonditsis, 2013, Phosphorus retention in a mesotrophic lake under transient loading conditions: insights from a sediment phosphorus binding form study, Water Research, 47, 1433-1447

Ojeda, J.J, and Dittrich, M. 2012. Application of an Infrared Spectroscopy for Cell-Minerals Interfaces, Chapter 8, Ali Navid (ed.), Microbial Systems Biology: Methods in Molecular Biology" (Springer),vol. 881, 187-211

Gudimov, A., E. O’Connor, M. Dittrich, H. Jarjanazi, M. Palmer, E. Stainsby, J. Winter, J. Young, and G.B. Arhonditsis, 2012. A Bayesian network for studying the causal links between phosphorus loading and plankton patterns in lake Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 7283-7292

Matsko, N.B., Znidaršic N., Letofsky-Papst, I., Dittrich, M., Grogger, W., Štrus J., Hofer, F. 2011. Silicon: The key element in early stages of biocalcification, Journal of Structural Biology 174 180–186

Dittrich, M., Gabriel, O., Rutzen, C. and R. Koschel, 2011, Lake Restoration by Hypolimnetic Ca(OH)2 Treatment: Impact on Phosphorus Sedimentation and Release from Sediment, Science of the Total Environment, 409, 8, 1504-1515

Dittrich, M. and Sibler, S., 2010. Calcium Carbonate Precipitation by Cyanobacterial Polysaccharides, PEDLEY, H.M. & ROGERSON,M. (eds) Tufas and Speleothems: Unravelling the Microbial and Physical Controls. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 336, 51–63.

Branchu P., Bergonzini L., Pons-Branchu E., Violier, E., Dittrich, M. and Ghaleb, B. 2010. Intensification of Lake Malawi stratification since the end of the Little Ice Age: Evidences from pore-water chemistry, Global and Planetary Change, 72, 321–330

Dittrich, M., Vasconcelos, C. and P. Dorozhkin, 2010. Microbe-mineral interfaces in biofilms as seen by Atomic Force Microscopy combined with Raman and X-ray Spectroscopy, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 74, 11, Supplement 1, A236-A236

Dittrich, M., P. Reichert, and B. Wehrli, 2009. Lake Sediments during the Transient Eutrophication Period: Reactive-Transport Model and Identifiability Study Ecological Modelling, Ecological Modelling, 220, 2751-2769

Obst, M., Wehrli, B. and Dittrich, M., 2009. CaCO3 nucleation by cyanobacteria: laboratory evidence for a passive surface-mediated mechanism, Geobiology, 7, 324-347.


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Laboratory equipment and services











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