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waterfall in the valley
Waimea Valley on the island of Oʻahu (Photo courtesy: Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens).

The University of Hawaiʻi has joined dozens of academic centers around the country to form the Microbiome Centers Consortium (MCC) to advance microbiome science—the study of assemblages of microbes in the environment and in symbiosis with humans, animals and plants. This field of research stands at the forefront of a renaissance in biology, as microbiomes are increasingly recognized as being crucial to the functioning of ecosystems, ranging from the deep sea to the human body.

Two researchers with the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai and Associate Professor Nicole Hynson, recently co-authored a publication in Nature Microbiology announcing the consortium and its goals for advancing the far-reaching field of microbiome research.

In the U.S. this field has been recognized at the federal level via the 2016 National Microbiome Initiative, and UH has been a leader in this field for years.

In forming the MCC, the centers will share best practices about their broad range of activities, reduce redundancy in their workloads, coordinate efforts to advocate for the field, and advise policymakers. The collective will also provide related training, education and outreach.

An integrated network

Perhaps most importantly, an integrated network can provide a platform for the major work ahead for microbiome research. Regardless of the system (for example, host-associated or environmental), the big questions in microbiome science are similar: What role do microbiomes play in system health and resilience? Can we alter microbiomes to improve environmental and human health, and develop more sustainable biotechnology and resilient agriculture? To answer these questions, the field must uncover fundamental principles of microbiomes that will not be apparent by studying one system at a time. Addressing these challenges will require sharing knowledge, expertise and ideas widely among scientists and non-scientists alike, and across borders.

“By coordinating the efforts of individual microbiome centers we are positioning the field of microbiome science to make large strides toward advancing our understanding of the role of microbes in the health of humans and our planet,” said Hynson.

Related community event

UH will host renowned microbiologist Lita Proctor, inaugural coordinator of the National Institutes of Health’s $200 million Human Microbiome Project. She will present The Microbes Song: The New Field of Microbe Science in a free public lecture on Thursday, January 23, 6:30–8 p.m. at the UH Mānoa Art building auditorium.

Proctor will speak on microbiome science writ large, explaining how new research is transforming our understanding of ecosystems, evolution and human health.

For more information, visit the Better Tomorrow Speaker Series website.

—By Marcie Grabowski

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