UC Davis Scientists Explore the Microbiome

Today’s White House announcement of the National Microbiome Initiative will bring new funding and attention to better understand the billions of microbes that swarm around in and around us and probably play an important role in our health, food and environment. At UC Davis, many scientists are already exploring this hidden world. Here are a few of them.

Jonathan Eisen is one of the pioneers of studying microbe communities through genetic sequencing. His lab is involved in understanding the complete “Tree of Life,” and projects on microbial communities associated with buildings, as well as communities on different plants and animals, including people, dogs and cats. A prolific blogger, Eisen regularly calls out examples of excessive microbiome hype.

David Coil is a project scientist in Eisen’s lab. He is involved in the Microbiology of the Built Environment project (microBE.net) and in a project that collected environmental microbes and sent them to the International Space Station (spacemicrobes.org).

Several UC Davis researchers, including Daniela Barile, David Mills, Bruce German and Kathryn Dewey are involved in understanding how mother’s milk nourishes not just a growing infant, but the microbes in the baby’s gut, and how that can affect health and disease.

Mills has also worked on the communities of microbes that give rise to “terroir,” the unique properties of different wine-growing regions.

Nutritionist Carolyn Slupsky is studying the interactions between food, metabolism and microbes.

The Center of Health for Advancing Microbiome and Mucosal Protection or CHAMMP is lead by medical microbiologist and HIV researcher Satya Dandekar and food scientist Bruce German. The center brings together a wide range of researchers focused on intestinal health. It was established with a seed grant from the UC Davis Office of Research RISE (Research Investments in Science and Engineering) program.

Food scientist Maria Marco is studying the communities of bacteria that produce lactic acid. These bacteria are important for digestion, and also for making fermented food products.

Venkatesan Sundaresan is taking part in the Rice Microbiome Project. Using rice as a model, the project aims to understand how plants recruit a community of microbes around their roots that support plant health.

This story originally appeared on the UC Davis Egghead Blog.

More information:

Ed Yong writes about the National Microbiome Initiative in The Atlantic 

Jonathan Eisen’s TED Talk “Meet Your Microbes”

Update: Eisen blogs that he’s pleasantly surprised by the new initiative.