The Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge Funds Innovative, Cross-Cutting Research

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 8, 2017 - Three teams of researchers will be the recipients of the Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge that supports novel, cross-cutting tools and methods in the field of microbiome research. The selected proposals include research on genetic switches to study microbial ecosystems, tools for deciphering multi-kingdom communication molecules, and a novel approach to map interactions between bacteria species.

"The Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge is an exciting opportunity to support high risk, interdisciplinary research that does not normally receive traditional funding," said Tim Donohue, Chair of the Scientific Advisory board for the Kavli Challenge. "The grants selected for funding demonstrated great potential for the generation of novel tools and methods that will be broadly applicable across the many environments and move the field forward in the causal understanding of microbial and community function. The Kavli Foundation is to be commended for investing in this rapidly emerging field with this program."

A team of researchers led by Raghuveer Parthasarathy, Professor of Physics, from the University of Oregon, will use their grant to create genetic switches. The team will create DNA-based circuits that turn on and off particular genes, and simultaneously activate fluorescent beacons. These tools will enable new, experimental approaches for studying animal-associated microbial communities as ecosystems of interacting colonized hosts, and colonizing microbes.

Researchers from the University of Washington will use their Kavli grant to develop a tool for deciphering multi-kingdom communication molecules using engineer cellular traps. The team, led by Ashleigh Theberge, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, will create new analytical chemistry and engineering tools that pull out key molecules from a mix of molecular noise in order to selectively “listen” to molecular signals produced by specific fungi, bacteria, or human cells.

The third team’s grant will support research on measuring species interactions in situ using micro-droplet co-localization. The research, led by Roy Kishony, Professor of Biology from the Israel Institute of Biology, will introduce a novel approach of comprehensive mapping of interactions between bacterial species within their natural communities. Their research will uncover which species support and inhibit the growth of others, and it will serve as a basis for discovering natural mediators of species interactions.

"Three major life sciences organizations, ASM, ACS and APS, came together to provide scientists with the unique opportunity of bringing together experts from different research areas to move this very exciting field forward," said Stefano Bertuzzi, CEO, ASM, "The Kavli Ideas Challenge allowed for the collaboration between different scientific communities that span computational biology, physics and analytical chemistry to develop important new research tools."

"The Kavli Foundation is delighted with the partnership of ASM, ACS, and APS in the Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge, to catalyze collaborations at the intersection of fields," said Miyoung Chun, Executive Vice President of Science Programs at The Kavli Foundation. "We would like to congratulate the award recipients, whose expertise spans physics, chemistry, and biology, and we wish them all the best in their efforts to accelerate understanding of microbial function."

In support of a National Microbiome Initiative launched by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and to accelerate discovery in the field of microbiome research, The Kavli Foundation committed $1 million to a Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge supporting development of next generation scientific tools for investigating life on a microbial scale. The Kavli Ideas Challenge is led by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and carried out in partnership with the American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Physical Society (APS).

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