The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has announced a $140 million commitment to launch a new area of research focused on the interactions of organisms in aquatic ecosystems.
Over the next nine years, the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative will support the development of new tools, theories, and concepts related to aquatic symbioses and will work to bring research communities together to learn how symbioses involving microorganisms function, evolve, and serve critical ecosystem roles in marine and freshwater environments. Building on the foundation's Marine Microbiology Initiative, the effort will invest in technology and resources designed to enable discovery; provide unrestricted funding to scientists and engineers to innovate and explore; support collaboration among multidisciplinary teams to reduce silos between disciplines and communities; and build community to create a broader yet more integrated field.
Major symbiotic events in aquatic systems include the origin of the eukaryotic cell, which occurred almost two billion years ago — a symbiotic integration of two microorganisms that created the ancestor of all animals, plants, fungi, and protists.
"To date, studies of aquatic organisms have often not explored the roles that symbiotic interactions play in the evolution, ecology, and overall functioning of our larger world," said Bonnie Bassler, professor and chair of molecular biology at Princeton University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. "With new technologies in gene editing, imaging, chemistry, molecular biology, and more, there is an opportunity to fill gaps in knowledge, and, moreover, discover fundamental new principles that are central to life on Earth."
"We have an opportunity to jump-start an important area of scientific inquiry," said Jon Kaye, program director of the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. "There are clever scientists conducting research in this area who could benefit from our support to pursue their ideas and accelerate the rate of new discoveries. We also want to find scientists and engineers who had not previously considered symbiosis questions and to bring them into this area of scientific inquiry."