Microbiomics Initiative

Bringing together existing local expertise and new world-class recruits, and endowing them with the necessary common resources that will allow them to attain discipline-building, difference-making, mission-focused outcomes.

The study of communities of microbes (microbiomes) in a variety of environments, including the human body, has deep roots in disciplines like microbial ecology and environmental engineering.  But the generalized realization that microbiomes play crucial roles in human, animal and plant health, and that they drive many aspects of relevance to our natural and built environment, has emerged only during the last decade as one of the grand scientific challenges of our century. 

Federal funding for research on microbiomes has increased dramatically, largely in the medical field, and it is likely to enter a new phase of focused attention and wider support, with plentiful resources aimed at improving our understanding of microbiome functioning, and to enhance our capacity to explain, predict and manipulate the processes they mediate and drive. A recent survey found a total Federal investment in microbiome research of approximately $922 million disbursed to 2,784 projects over the course of three fiscal years, FY12 through FY14. This corresponds to an average of about $307 million each year, and support of microbiome research has increased each year since FY12.

The federal Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently offered three broad policy recommendations. First, microbiome research would greatly benefit from virtual Centers of Microbiome Innovation that would enable interdisciplinary, interagency collaborations among a diversity of scientists. Such cross-cutting research programs would be more likely than traditional, siloed research to elucidate the fundamental principles governing microbiomes, thereby accelerating progress in all fields. Second, the Federal Government should support the development of three key tools and technologies: protocol standards and reference materials to allow comparison of experiments; a flexible, open-access database for broad, interdisciplinary analysis of microbiomes; and widely available high-throughput tools for measuring microbiome data. Third, the Federal Government should support education, training, and recruitment of experts in the fields of bioinformatics and modeling who can interpret the existing, vast microbiome datasets already gathered to pose new hypotheses.

 

ASU research growth will include a major new Microbiomics Initiative to meet the challenges as outlined by the Federal Government. ASU has a history of high-quality, high-impact research on microbiomes from several research groups, and is making discoveries of relevance. Yet we function as a collection of points of excellence rather than as a coordinated group, lacking a common strategy and sense of common enterprise. 

To provide a consolidated, visible, efficient platform that enables us to be a leading player in this still forming arena, ASU will create the Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics (CFAM), bringing together existing local expertise and new world-class recruits, and endowing them with the necessary common resources that will allow them to attain discipline-building, difference-making, mission-focused outcomes.  

The center will be housed in the Biodesign Institute, and count on the initial academic support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Fulton Schools of Engineering, and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.  This center would provide unparalleled opportunities for interaction and synergy with other high-impact ASU initiatives like the Center for Evolution and Medicine, the ASU-Mayo Collaboration, and the newly funded Engineering Research Center on Biogeotechnics (CBBG).

CFAM mission

To develop a thorough understanding of the functional and structural basis of complex systems of microbes, and their relevance for human, animal and plant biology, the environment, and man-made systems. To help create and advance the discipline of microbiomics by developing novel techniques and an integrated systems understanding of microbiomes, so as to establish general functional principles that are not only explanatory, but also predictive, and thus applicable and translatable, of the behavior of communities of microorganisms.

To learn more about microbiome research, go to:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/05/21/whats-next-microbiome

https://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/index

http://www.earthmicrobiome.org/