Many aspects of microbial life are being studied in labs at the University of Michigan, from structural and biochemical aspects of cells in pure culture, to molecular and chemical signatures of complex communities, to computer modeling and real-world manipulations. We want to promote research that integrates these diverse approaches to uncover fundamental properties of microbial communities, properties that can be used to deliver new solutions to the challenges of human health and environmental sustainability.
One example of a coordinated approach to research of a microbial system is the Michigan Microbiome Project. This program is studying ways to modify the gut microbiome to maintain or improve human health. It is adding a new dimension to multiple studies already underway at UM by incorporating analyses of the structure and functions of bacterial communities. It is sponsored by the Center for Microbial systems, the University’s Host Microbiome Initiative and a consortium of companies. It involves multiple researchers in departments throughout the Medical School, and has initiated pilot studies with cohorts of healthy undergraduate students, individuals enrolled in a weight management program, patients undergoing bone marrow transplants and a cohort of individuals being treated for mental illness.
A second example of cross-disciplinary microbial research is a recently initialed project to study harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes. This research is sponsored by the University of Michigan Water Center and brings together 11 researchers from five university units and a local federal agency to apply state-of-the art technologies involving genomics, chemistry and ecology.
For the future, the Center for Microbial Systems is actively engaged in developing a transdisciplinary research program that will support the study and enhancement of microbial communities involved in environmental decontamination.
We are also organizing meetings that will engage U-M researchers with leading microbiologists from around the world and with the general public. These will lead to greater appreciation of the importance of microbes and new collaborations to address the most pressing needs in microbial ecology.