Microbiomes take center stage

Scientists holding microbe cultures.

NC State University is among more than 100 institutions nationwide taking part in a microbiome initiative launched Friday by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. As part of the event, NC State officials announced that they will host a microbiome conference in October and fund research projects on microbiomes of two of the world’s leading crops.

Microbiomes are communities of microscopic organisms that live on and in people, plants, soil, oceans and the atmosphere. The National Microbiome Initiative aims to advance the understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function in humans, animals, crops and the environment.

Exploring ‘unseen opportunities’

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will host “Microbiomes: Unseen Opportunities for Agriculture and Life Sciences” as part of its Stewards of the Future conference series on Oct. 20 in Raleigh.

The daylong conference is designed to raise awareness and understanding about microbiomes and their importance in agriculture, health, and the environment; to foster interdisciplinary research collaborations; and to inform policymakers and the general public about emerging developments in microbiome science.

More information is available online.

Research advances microbiome knowledge

College researchers also are advancing knowledge of microbiomes in a number of areas. Through a university-industry partnership known as the Plant Soil Microbial Community Consortium, for example, scientists are focusing on microbiomes important to agriculture. At a meeting earlier this year, representatives of founding consortium industry members RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Novozymes and BASF Plant Science selected research projects for the consortium’s first round of funding:

  • Dr. Peter Balint-Kurti: a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist, will study multiple disease resistance and the maize microbiome.
  • Dr. Ralph Dean, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor, will research the microbiome of rice seed and seedlings.

Balint-Kurti and Dean are part of the NC State’s Department of Plant Pathology.

About the consortium

The consortium is part of North Carolina State University’s Center for Integrated Fungal Research (http://cifr.ncsu.edu/) and is an interdisciplinary group of researchers with expertise in plant pathology, soil science, microbial physiology, climate modeling, and mathematics. It integrates all aspects of soil and plant microbiome research, including environmental and climate initiatives, disease, agriculture, evolution, mathematical modeling, genomics, and bioinformatics, and will translate knowledge from fundamental research to stakeholders, the general public, and the scientific community.

Dr. Marc Cubeta, of the Center for Integrated Fungal Research, said, “The funding of these projects represents an important contribution to our research efforts in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University and greatly strengthens our partnerships with industry for achieving common goals that enhance agricultural crop productivity and reduce the impact of damaging pests and diseases.”

Consortium seeks new members

The consortium actively solicits new members. Industry members will benefit from university resources and have first access to consortium research results, new initiatives and proposals, and consortium membership provides companies with an opportunity to leverage their research funds by pooling funds with other members to increase research productivity. Consortium members will also have an opportunity to provide critical input in developing new research initiatives.

When research developments are made, members benefit from first access to intellectual property. Members also can interact closely with the faculty, students, technicians, and post-doctoral researchers, as well as identify potential new hires. Students, postdocs and other university researchers will also have opportunities for industry internships and sabbaticals with consortium industry members.

For more information or to get involved, contact Dr. Deborah Thompson at (919) 515-2717 or deborah_thompson@ncsu.edu.

— D. Shore

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