Launched in 2019 with a $140 million commitment over nine years, the initiative supports the development of new tools, theories, and concepts related to aquatic symbioses and works to bring research communities together to learn how symbioses involving microorganisms function, evolve, and serve critical ecosystem roles in marine and freshwater environments. Investigators selected to participate in the program will receive unrestricted support over five years to pursue innovative research focused on the origins, evolution, physiology, ecology, and natural history of aquatic symbioses.
Areas of interest to the inaugural cohort of investigators include the establishment of symbiotic associations, the role of biophysical processes and chemistry on the formation and persistence of symbioses, the processes by which symbioses have shaped the tree of life, and the influence of symbioses on the function and health of aquatic ecosystems. Recipients include Lutz Becks (University of Konstanz), whose research is focused on gaining a mechanistic understanding of species interactions in aquatic microbial systems; Mohamed Abou Donia (Princeton University), who is studying the molecular bases of defensive toxin production, regulation, and evolution in various marine symbioses; Sabeeha Merchant (University of California, Berkeley), who will study how algae interact in symbioses with other microbes and the impact of those interactions on trace metal acquisition and central carbon metabolism; and Yixian Zheng (Carnegie Institute for Science), who will leverage advanced genomic tools and synthetic biology methods to study the mechanisms and evolution of endosymbiosis.
"The investigator awards will serve as a flagship for the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative," said science program officer Sara Bender, "and are expected to push the frontier of aquatic symbiosis research by providing stable and ample support for brilliant scientists who will take risks that drive creative work."
(Photo credit: Steven David Johnson/Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation)