NC State, UNC Collaborate on Microbiome Project

Ignazio Carbone

Ignazio Carbone

With a new U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University are working together to better understand how communities of microbes influence disease transmission.

The $2.5 million grant, from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, went to UNC biology professors Charles Mitchell, James Umbanhowar and Corbin Jones as well as NC State’s Ignazio Carbone, of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

It is part of an interagency collaboration that supports the national microbiome research initiative announced by the White House in April and underscores the universities’ strength in research critical to unlocking the mysteries of the microbiome.

Microbiomes are communities of diverse microorganisms that regulate health in animals, plants, the environment and the human body.  The award will enable researchers to better understand the ecology of infectious diseases by focusing on the microbiome of tall fescue, one of the most important grasses in the state and region, in habitats from pastures to prairies to backyards.

UNC’s Mitchell Lab will examine the microbiome of tall fescue leaves and test whether key members of the leaves’ microbiome can reduce pathogen infection of host individuals and under what conditions they can also reduce pathogen transmission across the host population.

Meanwhile, the Carbone lab at NC State is developing novel biodiversity informatics pipelines and visualization tools to discover, evaluate and describe new fungal taxa. In this project, the lab will focus on integrating microbial diversity data across population, species and community scales to better understand the connection between within-host microbial composition and population-level transmission dynamics.

The project directly supports the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) National Microbiome Initiative to advance research into microbiome behavior and function. The initiative promises to yield not just a better understanding of our natural world, but also insights into how microbiomes can be tapped to improve the health of humans, plants, animals, and ecosystems.

The grant is awarded through the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases program, an interagency collaboration among the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation.

— Staff Report