Prestigious $5M honor for UH microbial researcher

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Marcie Grabowski, (808) 956-3151
Outreach Specialist, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology
Posted: Aug 2, 2018

Margaret McFall-Ngai
Margaret McFall-Ngai

Margaret McFall-Ngai, professor and director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, has been selected to receive a MERIT award of more than $5 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

MERIT or Method to Extend Research In Time awards have been offered since 1986 to “distinctly superior” investigators who have demonstrated high levels of competence and productivity in previous research efforts and “who are highly likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner.” The awards, which can be extended for up to 10 years via a non-competitive renewal process after the first five years, are designed to give scientists long-term support, without the burden of constantly devoting time and staff resources to applying for new grants to fund their research.

For nearly three decades, McFall-Ngai and PBRC Researcher Edward “Ned” Ruby have used the Hawaiian bobtail squid and its single bacterial symbiont, Vibrio fischeri, as a model biological system to characterize animal microbiomes. They have investigated the process by which an appropriate symbiont species is recruited into a host animal’s microbiome at the exclusion of all other bacteria, and discovered bacteria affecting animal development and bacterial partners driving circadian (daily) rhythms of their host.

“With this new award, Ned, who is the co-investigator on the grant, and I will continue to use marine animals to define the ‘rules’ that govern the molecular and biochemical ‘conversation’ that mediates the establishment and maintenance of an animal symbiosis with gram-negative bacteria (a classification of bacteria that can cause many types of infections),” said McFall-Ngai.

For more information, visit: