The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative is investing $19 million over the next three years to support 42 teams of scientists to advance model systems in aquatic symbiosis. The initiative’s funding aims to equip the scientific community with infrastructure such as new genetic tools, cultivation methods, and nanoscale microscopy to improve experimental capabilities in aquatic symbiosis research over the coming decade. As a key component of this funding, the teams will work collaboratively across the grant portfolio to develop and share their tools and methods with each other and with the research community.  

The Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative aims to advance knowledge of how symbiotic associations function and participate in ecology and evolution in marine and freshwater systems. The Symbiosis Model Systems portfolio is an important part of the initiative’s strategic approach to invest in technology and resources to enable discovery. 

An aquatic symbiosis model system is a well-studied association of two or more freshwater or marine organisms that can be manipulated in the laboratory to reveal underlying controls of gene expression and function, determine how the organisms interact, investigate how the organisms contribute to ecosystem processes, and understand their evolution. 

The Symbiosis Model Systems portfolio will build on a growing movement in the life sciences to increase the number of highly tractable systems, like the established models of E. coli, fruit flies, and mice, that play a prominent role in informing our knowledge of biology. 

“We are excited to launch these awards to support nearly 200 scientists and their efforts to significantly increase tools and methods in genetics, cultivation, imaging, and additional areas available for aquatic symbiosis model system research,” said Adam Jones, Ph.D., program officer for Science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “The supported scientists, selected from a global competition and representing all career stages, will openly and actively share their methods and ideas using the online protocols repository protocols.io to increase the pace of methods and technology development and limit redundancy.”  

“The symbiosis model systems program and award will enable my lab to develop genetic tools for our emerging bacteria-tubeworm model symbiosis; timely work we couldn’t do without this support,” said Dr. Nicholas Shikuma, assistant professor at San Diego State University.  

“Our award will enable my team to develop new microscopy methods to gain unprecedented insight into the detailed interactions between a marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri and its squid host Euprymna,” said Dr. Ariane Briegel, professor at Leiden University. “This project will reveal the detailed structural interplay of both microbial symbiont and the host cells at the nanoscale and in three dimensions. Once established, these tools and workflows will be applicable to a wide range of biological questions related to cellular interactions.”  

The symbiosis model systems awards will also feature methods and scientists from fields outside aquatic symbiosis, such as nanoengineering and synthetic biology, that will introduce the community to new perspectives and increase multidisciplinary connections across the portfolio.  

“The development of symbiotic interactions between species is a process of significant evolutionary and ecological importance. However, our knowledge of how symbioses are established remains very limited, and some of these steps are impossible to investigate using current approaches,” said Dr. Briardo Llorente, a fellow at Macquarie University. “This grant will provide vital funding for our team to undertake highly ambitious research in synthetic biology and bioinformatics to provide novel perspectives on the principles that govern symbiosis.” 

“This award provides us with the unique opportunity to gather a new collaborative team of experts, which together cover a wide range of complementary expertise and access to cutting-edge infrastructure essential to the success of our research,” said Dr. Anja Spang, scientist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. “These symbiosis model system awards provide a new avenue for scientists to connect across disciplines and create a network for symbiosis research that not only stimulates exchange but has the potential to significantly advance the field in the coming years." 

 

Image credit: Researchers Itamar Harel and Oren Kolodny of The Silberman Institute of Life Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


 

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