$2.5 million for food chain microbiome research could impact agriculture and biofuel systems

Two people looking at a bird
Experts Matthew Medeiros and Margaret Macphale Ngai from the Center for Microbiome Analysis through Island Knowledge and Investigation (C- everythingA study of the interconnectedness and flow of microbes through ecosystems and trophic levels in the Waimea Valley. (Image credit: Scott Nishi, oh Enterprise)

World-renowned microbiome research at the University of Hawaii In Mānoa he was given a major boost by the National Science Foundation.

The five-year, $2,499,432 grant will support new research led by the Life Sciences Professor in the College of Life Sciences Anthony Amand and his team to study how microbes affect food chains, which could lead to the creation of more efficient food webs that could increase yields in agriculture, aquaculture and biofuel systems. This is the latest project in the storied history of pioneering microbiome research in oh Mānoa, led by Margaret Macphale Ngai, who joined the Carnegie Institution for Science in January 2022.

Food chains are inherently inefficient with large and predictable losses of energy due to wastage and respiration. Research on food webs has primarily focused on interactions between plants and animals. However, the microbes (microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi) that live in and on macroorganisms play important roles in their health, reproduction rates and ability to digest food.

People are sifting soil and sand
C- everything Researchers are doing microbiome research in the Waimea Valley. (Image credit: Scott Nishi, oh Enterprise)

the oh The Mānoa project will study how symbiotic microbes contribute to the efficiency of food webs, and how food webs determine the composition of symbiotic microbes. The findings may point to ways to manipulate microbial composition to create more efficient food webs that could guide the restoration of degraded habitats, carbon capture, and increased yields in agriculture, aquaculture and biofuel systems.

“Every time an animal eats a plant or other animal, about 90% of that nutrient’s energy is escaped as heat, with only the remaining 10% being transferred as biomass,” said Amend, who is the lead researcher on the project. . “This incompetence is one of life’s most enduring rules, which is why there are relatively few predators like sharks and lions in nature, but so many plants and plant eaters. We now know that the symbiotic microbes that live inside plants and animals can influence If we can manipulate these microbes to change the efficiency with which food is converted into biomass – even in a small percentage – this could have huge implications for our ability to manage the complex biological systems on which we depend, such as watersheds Water and diets.”

Amend added, “There has been a lot of fascinating work on how the microbiome affects a single animal or plant, so we decided to extend that to an entire ecosystem. It’s crazy to think that the smallest organisms can have the biggest impacts.”

Also on the research team is the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) Assistant Professor Matthew MedeirosAnd PBRC Assistant Professor Nicole Heinson Assistant Professor in the Department of Information and Computer Science Peter Sadowsky.

Developing Microbiome Research in the Waimea Valley

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

This project builds on previous research in the Waimea Valley that indicated the astonishing extent to which symbiotic microbes have been shared between plants, animals, soil and sediments. This high degree of microbiome overlap across entire watersheds indicates that even unrelated organisms were dependent on each other as sources of important microbial diversity. A comment was posted on the search in Science Amend presented the findings at the August 2019 meeting of the American Environmental Society.

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Utilizing a typical Hawaiian watershed system, this project aims to understand how host-associated microbes control food chain efficiency and how location within the food web in turn affects the microbiome. Two experimental systems will be used to explore these predictions. The first is a simple food web that forms in the small pond of bromeliads, and the second consists of a laboratory-based micro-mosquito world. By analyzing microbial genomic data, researchers will decode specific microbial genes and proteins that affect food web efficiency and function by altering the digestive capacity of hosts.

The project will help train postdoctoral researchers and graduate and undergraduate students in the sciences of the microbiome through research in and out of the classroom. In addition, researchers will conduct workforce development and outreach to unrepresented groups including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

This work is an example of oh Mānoa’s Goals for Building a Sustainable and Resilient Campus Environment: Within the Global Sustainability and Climate Resilience Movement (PDFExcellence in Research: Advancement of Research Projects and Creative WorkPDF), two of the four targets set out in the 2015-25 Strategic PlanPDF), updated December 2020.

-by Mark Arakaki


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