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Biologists Receive $2 Million to Classify the Microbial World

Biologists Receive $2 Million to Classify the Microbial World
UT Austin biologists have received funding to classify the world’s microbes based on genetics, function and ecology. This image is a tree of life for one group of microbes called archaea. In this case, they are all found in the guts of great apes. Credit: Howard Ochman/University of Texas at Austin.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a team of four researchers, including University of Texas at Austin biologists Howard Ochman and Mark Kirkpatrick, approximately $2 million over three years to classify the entire microbial world into genetic, ecological and functional units. The researchers also aim to understand how diversity originates and to analyze the genetic basis of functional and ecological differences between emerging species.

The team also includes Louis-Marie Bobay at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Martin Polz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The award is part of the NSF's Dimensions of Biodiversity program in the agency's environmental biology division. Through this program, NSF is investing over $18 million in ten new projects to research processes in nature and their complex interactions with climate, land use and invasive species at local, regional and continental scales.

Despite centuries of discovery, most of our planet's biodiversity remains unknown. The scale of the unknown diversity on Earth is especially troubling given the rapid and permanent loss of biodiversity across the globe. The goal of the Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign is to transform how we describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth.

"This research is unique in that multiple dimensions of biodiversity are addressed simultaneously," said Joanne Tornow, acting assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences. "These are novel approaches that intend to get at synergistic roles of critical ecological and evolutionary processes."

This campaign promotes novel integrative approaches to fill the most substantial gaps in our understanding of the diversity of life on Earth. It takes a broad view of biodiversity, and focuses on the intersection of genetic, phylogenetic and functional dimensions of biodiversity. The projects all integrate these three dimensions to understand interactions and feedbacks among them.

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Monday, 19 November 2018

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