Funding Supports the Recently Announced White House Microbiome Initiative

By Layla Dowdy, Office of Research Communications

How communities of microbes influence the transmission of diseases is the subject of a new grant awarded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to UNC biology professors Charles Mitchell, James Umbanhowar, Corbin Jones and North Carolina State University’s Ignazio Carbone.  The award is part of an interagency collaboration that supports the national microbiome research initiative announced by the White House in April and underscores UNC’s strength in research critical to unlocking the mysteries of the microbiome.

Tall fescue leaf infected by fungal pathogen. Credit: Fletcher Halliday, PhD, Charles Mitchell Lab
Tall fescue leaf infected by fungal pathogen. Credit: Fletcher Halliday, PhD, Charles Mitchell Lab

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 its study 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. The Charles Mitchell Lab at UNC 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. This knowledge can contribute to our overall understanding of the prevention and spread of disease.

The award and 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. UNC representatives, along with peers from sub-grantee North Carolina State University, attended the launch of the initiative in Washington, DC.

UNC‘s dedicated resources and infrastructure make the university a prime hub for microbiome research and understanding.  Many of the nation’s leading microbiome researchers are on faculty at the university, working across all fields of the diverse discipline. Carolina is also to home to cutting-edge research facilities, including the Microbiome Core Facility and the Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease.

“The research that is accelerated through this grant seeks to do the very thing the President’s science office wants to achieve in the national microbiome initiative,” said Terry Magnuson, vice chancellor for research. “Dr. Mitchell and his team will be seeking answers to fundamental questions about microbiome behavior common to all microbiome environments – whether human, plant or environmental.”

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

Posted October 10, 2016.

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