HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last May, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new National Microbiome Initiative (NMI), a coordinated effort to better understand microbiomes—communities of microorganisms that live on and in people, plants, soil, oceans and the atmosphere—and to develop tools to protect and restore healthy microbiome function. This initiative represents a combined federal agency investment of more than $121 million.
For years, the University of Hawai?i at Manoa has been making substantial investments—through faculty hires, endowments and facilities—and plans to continue to build capacity in the emerging field of microbiome research.
"UH Manoa is a powerhouse in the realm of microbiome research," said UH Manoa Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Bruno. "There are few, if any, universities with the number of world leaders in this domain—UH Manoa has three members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) who specialize in this field."
Along with long-established UH Manoa scientists, recent and upcoming hires of faculty will support the NMI and advance related research discoveries. In the past two years, and with an allocation of $2.2 million, UH Manoa has hired three professors, two junior faculty, and two related positions—all of whom address microbiomes. Further, the UH Manoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) will invest $1 million in hiring two additional faculty to explore complex microbial ecosystems.
"Major challenges facing mankind, including sustainability of the environment, human health, and energy and food production, have the microbial world as a principal driving force in both the creation of the problems as well as strategies for the development of solutions. We have a great opportunity here in Hawai?i to participate as pioneers in the research of our microbial biosphere," said Margaret McFall-Ngai, NAS member and director of PBRC.
In 2014, the Pavel family announced an endowment of $2 million to the Center for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education (C-MORE). Professor David Karl, co-founder of the Hawai?i Ocean Time-series program and C-MORE director, is the inaugural recipient of the Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel chair in Oceanography.
UH Manoa has invested nearly $37 million in construction and renovation of facilities that primarily support microbiome research. The majority of this ($22.5 million) went toward construction of the Daniel K. Inouye C-MORE Hale, a state-of-the-art LEED Platinum building, which was dedicated in 2010. C-MORE, as a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, required a cost share from UH—a contribution of approximately $9 million as cash or in-kind support. The university will continue to support shorefront and ocean-going assets that provide unparalleled access to the coastal and deep-water environments in which many microbiome researchers work. These additional future investments are expected to be greater than $5 million over the next 5 years.
Microbiomes maintain healthy function of diverse ecosystems, influencing diverse features of the planet—human health, climate change, and food security. UH Manoa, as a partner in the NMI, will advance the understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. From medicine to global climate change to deep sea mining, microbiome research is proving to be the next frontier—an area of research that is yielding new understanding and paradigm-shifting discoveries about the world around, and in, us.