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Moore Foundation Provides $35M for 'Risky' Marine Microbe Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded $35 million to fund a number of new research projects focused on discoveries about how microbes interact in the oceans and how they affect ecosystems.

The Moore Foundation said this week that the 16 grants awarded under its Marine Microbiology Initiative will fund innovative investigators seeking to understand how the trillions of microbes in the oceans affect the flow of nutrients in the waters and how they may impact larger phenomena, such as climate change.

The microbiology initiative, which launched in 2004, has funded research efforts using DNA sequencing and new sensor technologies to study the diversity of oceanic microbes, and now the program aims to build on that research base by funding interdisciplinary studies seeking to identify and then address knowledge gaps in the field.

"Too often, the most innovative scientists are hampered by funding that binds them to a solid, but conservative research agenda," Moore Foundation Board Member Bruce Alberts, who also is editor-in-chief of Science magazine, said in a statement. "These awards give scientists in marine microbiology the freedom and flexibility to take more risks, forge unusual collaborations and, ultimately, make noteworthy, new discoveries."

Awarded to individual investigators who applied for an open competition, these grants will fund projects engaging a range of disciplines to support the microbial studies, such as computational modeling, engineering, geochemistry, oceanography, and others.

"Marine microbes make up over 90 percent of the biomass in the ocean, and we know they are critically linked to ocean health and productivity," Moore Foundation Chief Program Officer Vicki Chandler said in a statement. "But even with the advances of the last eight years in understanding who these microbes are, we know little about what they do and how they interact. With these awards, we’re helping support and connect scientists from across different disciplines to identify and fill these gaps in existing knowledge."

One of the awards will fund a project led by J. Craig Venter Institute Associate Professor Andrew Allen. His research focus is on the comparative and functional genomics of eukaryotic marine phytoplankton, molecular microbial ecology, the metagenomics of eukaryotic microbes and bacteria, molecular and genome evolution, and similar areas.

Another grant winner, University of Washington Principal Investigator Ginger Armbrust, uses molecular approaches in lab-and-field studies to address basic questions about marine ecosystems, with a particular focus on phytoplankton.

Rutgers University Associate Professor Kay Bidle, another awardee, uses molecular biology and biochemistry approaches to study how phytoplankton and marine bacteria react to their environment and impact their ecosystems.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology PI Edward DeLong also won a Moore Foundation award. His lab undertakes a range of research efforts focused on microbial biodiversity, microbial metabolism, sensing microbes, and ecosystem modeling.

A complete list of the Marine Microbiology Initiative winners is available at the Moore Foundation website.

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