The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will provide $31 million in research grants during the next four years to uncover a deeper understanding of microbial ecosystems in the sea and their role in supporting the ocean’s food webs and global elemental cycles.

"The Moore Foundation has been a steady supporter of fundamental research in microbial science," said Robert Kirshner, Ph.D., chief program officer for science at the Moore Foundation. "We want to help deepen understanding of these fascinating natural systems: we have confidence that advances in biology will benefit society."

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will announce the funding this afternoon at its event on microbiomes—communities of microorganisms that live on and in people, animals, plants, soil and the ocean. The Administration will announce steps to advance the understanding of the complex activities of microbial communities in part to enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function, including by investigating fundamental principles that govern microbiomes across diverse ecosystems and by developing new tools to study microbial communities.

Two recent examples of Moore Foundation-funded projects illustrate the foundation’s commitment to understanding what ocean microbes do, how they evolve, and how they contribute to our world’s health and productivity.

  • The foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative enabled discoveries through new imaging and isotope-tracking techniques that measure, at an unprecedented level of detail, how microbes consume various food sources in coastal ecosystems. These studies shed new light on how microbes process nutrients and provide a better understanding of how bacteria play a role in regional carbon cycles.

  • In addition, the foundation’s ambitious, high-risk portfolio to develop genetic tools for marine protists (single-celled organisms that contain a nucleus) supports more than 100 scientists at 33 institutions globally to accelerate development of experimental model systems in marine microbial ecology.

These efforts highlight an important aspect of the foundation’s grantmaking in marine science: identifying opportunities to overcome bottlenecks that are preventing scientific progress, which often requires taking a risk to enhance understanding of marine bacteria, archaea, protists and viruses.

"Often, research on microbial communities in the sea allows testing of new ideas that can inform an array of microbiome sciences, including the human microbiome," said Jon Kaye, Ph.D., program director of the Marine Microbiology Initiative at the Moore Foundation. "Fortunately, advances in one type of microbiome science often helps the others because scientists are developing concepts and technologies relevant to multiple types of organisms, habitats and host associations."

As evidenced by the new understanding of microbial processing of nutrients in the Pacific Ocean and some preliminary successes with genetic tool development, a holistic approach to fundamental research for a field and embracing risk can lead to important rewards.

Building on efforts since 2004 to support leading research, technology development, and community resources for the field of marine microbial ecology, the Moore Foundation’s latest efforts through the Marine Microbiology Initiative will advance the foundation’s commitment to accelerating the pace of scientific discovery in the microbial sciences. These funds will round out the initiative’s upcoming four years of planned activities.


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