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Advancing the frontier of aquatic symbiosis research

March 11, 2020
By: Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded grants to support the work of fifteen scientists as part of the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative investigator program. This vibrant international cohort will receive five years of unrestricted support to pursue innovative, risky research that has high potential for significant conceptual and methodological advances in aquatic symbiosis. The collective research is expected to move the community towards a more comprehensive understanding of the origins, evolution, physiology, ecology and natural history of aquatic symbioses.

”The investigator awards will serve as a flagship for the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative and are expected to push the frontier of aquatic symbiosis research by providing stable and ample support for brilliant scientists who will take risks that drive creative work,” said Sara Bender, Ph.D., program officer of the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. Investigators will pursue diverse research topics and expand knowledge about aquatic symbiosis. They will also have the opportunity to develop and strengthen collaborations at annual gatherings.

The investigators’ collective research will:
•    Examine the establishment of symbiotic associations;
•    Illuminate the role of biophysical processes and chemistry on the formation and persistence of symbioses;
•    Elucidate the processes by which symbioses have shaped the tree of life; and,
•    Explore the influence of symbioses on the function and health of aquatic ecosystems.

"This award will give my research team the opportunity to develop new tools to experiment on the emergence of symbioses, where we follow in-detail the evolution of both aquatic partners under different conditions,” said Dr. Lutz Becks, Ph.D., University of Konstanz in Germany. The investigators will focus on a variety of marine and freshwater organisms, including viruses, archaea, bacteria, algae, sponges, corals and fish – among others.

The cohort’s research is expected to create a scientific impact greater than the sum of the individual awards because the awardees represent a spectrum of complementary research questions, methods, technologies and emphasis on either or both marine and freshwater symbiotic associations.

“We are all connected by a hidden sea of microbes and viruses,” said Rachel Whitaker, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We are only now beginning to truly fathom the broad impact of symbiosis with these microbes on the evolutionary process. I am grateful for the unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of symbiosis within a model microbial ecosystem in geothermal hot springs with a multi-disciplinary team of collaborators, and I look forward to sharing what we learn in a comparative context to advance forward-thinking goals of the Moore Foundation Initiative.”

Current and emerging leaders in aquatic symbiosis research, as well as scientists who will bring their deep expertise from other areas of science to aquatic symbiosis, were selected from a competitive pool. “I have always been attracted to problems that are important but understudied. One such cell biology problem is how corals co-exist with the microbes that live inside of them. It is of great interest to me because it relates to both the evolution and ecology of the system. My research brings different expertise and perspectives to explore the open questions in this field,” said Yixian Zheng, Ph.D., Carnegie Institution for Science in the United States.

“I am looking forward to the spark when we bring these researchers together. While the foundation’s role is to provide resources to under-funded but important areas of science, it will be up to this group of investigators to spin up new ideas and help each other make those ideas even sharper,” said Jon Kaye, Ph.D., director of the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative, launched in 2019, seeks to advance the understanding of aquatic symbioses that include microbial partners.

Moore FoundationThe Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit or follow @MooreFound.

March 11, 2020
By: Moore Foundation
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