University Introduces Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative

UCSD recently launched the Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative, a research program that will implement a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding microorganisms in order to benefit the environment and human health. The program was announced by Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla on Oct. 29.

The initiative, which will be spearheaded by computer science and engineering Professor Rob Knight and biology Professor Kit Pogliano, will merge sciences, engineering, medicine and humanities together to improve the way microbes are studied.

Pogliano said the combination of the disciplines will allow the initiative to discern how to use microbes beneficially.

“The initiative will leverage our breadth in the quantitative microbial sciences and our collaborative culture to understand and ultimately control how these streamlined cells and their dynamic communities impact our health and the environment,” Pogliano described in a press release on Oct. 29.

Microbiomes, as explained by Knight, are cells that are responsible for certain health conditions, such as obesity, autism and multiple sclerosis. More research needs to be done to uncover just how these microorganisms operate.

“Most of the microbes and their genes are unknown right now,” Knight told the UCSD Guardian. “We’re trying to discover this ‘dark matter’ within our own body and use it both to cure disease and promote life-long health.”

Until now, most microbiome studies have focused on mice. Knight believes that the initiative, with its new focused Center for Microbiome Innovation, can create the technology needed to study how microbiomes affect humans.

“Technology to read out our microbiomes has improved rapidly and has already told us a lot in a research setting, mainly in mice,” Knight said. “To translate these findings into humans, we need better technology to read out and control our microbiomes. That’s what the Center will develop.”

Biological Sciences Student Association President Christian Javier thinks that the initiative makes use of the university’s multi-disciplinary potential.

“[The initiative is] important because it showcases what UCSD has to offer, which is the power to cross disciplinary borders so that we can approach subjects from more than one perspective,” Javier told the Guardian. “We’re able to take the resources we have to create research that will help us understand our environment and ourselves.”

Believing the initiative will be a benefit to the students in his organization, Javier plans to connect with the project leads to take advantage of this opportunity.

“As BSA President, it’s great news for us because it could allow a lot of undergraduates to get involved in brand new research,” Javier said. “My team will start facilitating communication between us and the heads of this project to see what we can do in terms of getting undergraduates on board.”

Revelle College senior and microbiology major Bruno Perthus imagines that the initiative will be key to solving a variety of health problems and is enthusiastic about the widespread impact the university’s research will have.

“This research will help identify the effects [of different diseases], and by identifying the effects, they’ll be able to find a novel way to change that effect to better the human body,” Perthus told the Guardian. “Knowing that research in this area will be discovered at UCSD makes me excited about what the school will offer to the world.”

Knight said that students can get involved in this research by contacting himself or Kit Pogliano.

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