The Simons Foundation has established a new collaboration investigating the mysteries of the microscopic communities that produce more than half of Earth’s oxygen, form the base of the marine food web and cycle nutrients through the ecosystem. The Simons Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems, or THE-ME, will investigate how microbial ecosystems in the oceans form and function.
The new collaboration will seek answers to three main questions: How are functions distributed in a microbial ecosystem? How does resource supply shape microbial ecosystem structure and function? And how do environmental gradients and fluctuations impact microbial ecosystem structure and function?
Included among the Simons scientists working in this collaboration is University of Georgia Distinguished Research Professor Mary Ann Moran. A microbial ecologist in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of marine sciences, Moran has published widely on research into the many metabolic links in the global ocean microbiome.
Moran’s work with the Simons Collaboration, with the support of $1.4 million grant, will focus on the fundamental ecological principles that govern how microbes assemble into communities.
“In almost all habitats on Earth, microbes are organized into multi-species communities interacting through chemicals that function as signals and substrates. Our part of this multidisciplinary project is to investigate the ecological and metabolic connections between members of marine bacterial communities, providing data for theory and models on the rules governing community composition.”
The collaboration grants are for five years and include a team of scientists from MIT, CalTech, USC, UGA, and ETH in Zurich.
The group will develop experimental approaches to investigate how communities emerge from metabolic interactions between microorganisms in the absence of centralized coordination. The team will draw inspiration from the microbial communities that self-assemble around microscopic particles of organic matter in the ocean to develop model systems. Collections of cultured marine bacteria, fabricated microparticles and controlled microenvironments will serve as a basis for experiments to suggest and test theory.
“The Simons Collaboration is a remarkable opportunity to work with microbiologists, physiologists, modelers, and engineers to address a fundamental question in microbial ecology. The UGA team will share data and conduct joint experiments with other groups in this multidisciplinary effort to improve understanding of how microbial communities conduct their important work.”
Cofounded in New York City by Jim and Marilyn Simons, The Simons Foundation’s mission is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. For more information, visit, https://www.simonsfoundation.org
Image: Mary Ann Moran
Teaser image: A microecosystem of bacteria (their tracks in blue) feeds off organic matter leaking from a much larger spiny white marine diatom (center). Credit: ETH Zurich / Vicente Fernandez, Steven Smriga and Roman Stocker