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Addressing sustainability for Earth Week – what has the Microbiome Center been up to?

Kicking off in 2019, The Microbiome Center funded pilot projects to promote cross-faculty research initiatives in all aspects of microbiome research:

“Nitrogen Fixation in Coastal Marine Environments: Discovering Microbial Function” with co-director Cathy Pfister:

  • Kelp forests and seagrass beds provide critical habitat in coastal oceans, yet are in decline over large geographic areas. These foundational species often depend upon nitrogen to fuel their primary productivity and their growth can be limited by this essential nutrient. Collaborative research among UChicago and MBL is finding that microbes may help these primary producers access nitrogen on rocky shores of the Pacific Northwest. By shotgun sequencing the microbiome in association with kelps and surfgrasses, we are finding a diversity of nitrogen-related functions in microbes, including nitrogen fixation associated with the rhizomes of surfgrasses and enzymes that can increase the availability of nitrogen for kelp and surfgrass blades. Our discoveries are allowing us to better understand how microbes are a part of the health of coastal macrophytes and how microbes contribute to carbon and nitrogen cycling in coastal marine areas.

Another completed project resulted in the publication by Mika K, Okamoto AS, Shubin NH, Mark Welch DB in 2020: Intergenerational microbial transmission in the little skate (Leucoraja erinacea). Other ongoing selected projects include: “Identifying the Role of Segmented Worm Microbiome in Whole-Body Regeneration” and “Dissecting Phage-Bacteria Interactions in Single Cells”

Beginning in 2020, the Microbiome Center funded collaborative proposals aimed at understanding global change, collaborative proposals were to link research on microbes in the environment to any aspect of global change biology:

  • “An Integrative ‘Omics Approach to Elucidate Biochemical States in Microbiomes” – Developing and enhancing bacterial biosensors capable of providing a read out of global change in the surrounding environment, be it the human gut disease or heavy metal contamination.
  • “Nematostella vectensis: a sea anemone model for investigating the effects of environmental pollutants on Cnidarians and their associated microbiome” – Deciphering the effect of coastal pollution on the microbiome of coastal organisms to predict the impact of and adaptation to climate change.
  • “Microbial Community Nitrogen Metabolism in Rapidly-Changing Arctic Soils” – Employing microbial uptake of nitrogen with new labelling techniques to understand the consequences of increasing nitrogen availability in warming Arctic soils.
  • “Bile Acids as Ecological and Evolutionary Determinants of Microbial Assemblage, Stability, and Resilience of Regional Intestinal Microbiomes” – Investigating the role of bile acids in shaping the assembly, fitness and composition of microbes in the gut, particularly in a manner that mitigates disease.
  • “Desiccation Tolerance in Green Algae from Desert Microbiotic Crust Microbiomes” – Can desiccation tolerant soil algae help us to improve crop survival in a warming climate?
  • “Changing environments and the microbial ecosystem of migratory birds across the annual cycle” – How the changing climate has affected migratory birds’ size and shape through the lens of their respective microbiota.
  • “Microbial communities in wetlands: linking taxa and edaphic gradients with greenhouse emissions using machine learning” – Using machine learning to understand how the composition and structure of microbial communities within wetlands influences the release of methane into the atmosphere.
  • “Identification of Microbial Associates in Marine Invertebrate Species” – Measuring and addressing damage to coastal habitats by focusing on microbial and host interactions at the single cell level in several key species.

Learn more about The Microbiome Center at https://microbiome.uchicago.edu/.

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