What is the CME?
History and Organization
The Center for Microbial Ecology was founded in 1989 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as one of the first eleven Science and Technology Centers in the nation. Research Excellence Funds have been used by the University as a match to the NSF grant. After peer review in the fall of 1994, the NSF has recommended that funding of the Center be renewed and intends to provide $11.3 million over a five-year period that began in February 1995.
The Center has major programs in Research, Graduate Education, Industrial Outreach, and Educational Outreach designed to create new knowledge, facilitate the dissemination of knowledge to the industrial and governmental sectors, help to develop a well-trained work force knowledgeable in microbial ecology, and increase scientific literacy among K-12 students.
The intellectual focus of the Center for Microbial Ecology is to understand factors that influence the competitiveness, diversity and function of microorganisms in their natural and managed habitats. This knowledge is important because microorganisms have major roles in determining global warming, ground water quality, plant and animal health, and organic matter cycling. Further, microorganisms are important to the biotechnology industry and include organisms developed to degrade hazardous chemicals, for the production of pharmaceuticals and for biocatalysis. To ensure a sustainable biosphere and to exploit these microbial processes for economic gain, we must develop a comprehensive understanding of microbial diversity, microbial processes and microbial interactions. This can best be achieved through a multidisciplinary research effort such as that of the Center. The fundamental research done by the Center is organized into four "Thrust Groups":
There is also a research initiative devoted to economically important applied research in the area of Bioremediation. The thrust groups are comprised of interdisciplinary teams drawn from 40 faculty with expertise in the areas of microbial ecology and physiology, engineering, molecular biology and genetics, biochemistry, chemistry and environmental chemistry, mathematics and computer science, and ecology and evolutionary biology. The research is conducted by more than 70 graduate students and postdoctoral scientists in 11 academic departments.
These interdisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers have made several important contributions to the field of microbial ecology. For example, we have developed and used methods to measure diversity within microbial communities and to assess changes in the structure and function of bioreactor and soil communities that occur in response to perturbations or changes in environmental conditions. This provides insight into improved management of various microbial processes. Studies on microbial processes involved in the degradation of pollutants have led to new technologies for environmental remediation and new understanding of how to enhance the rates of naturally occurring processes. Research to understand the evolution of catabolic pathways has led to surprising discoveries concerning the global distribution of specific genes and organisms, as well as the high degree of genetic diversity and functional redundancy that can exist in a microbial community. Finally, this research has begun to unravel the complex issue of how various microbial characters contribute to the competitive abilities of microbial populations. There are several specific cases in which this knowledge has been used to develop new technologies for environmental remediation, improve strategies for waste management and to understand better the fates of chemicals in the environment, all of which will lead to improved environmental quality.
The international recognition of the Center has led to two unique collaborative agreements. One of these is with two institutes in Japan focused on the microbial evolution of catabolic pathways. We also have established collaborative research programs with Russian scientists on microbial communities preserved in permafrost soils that are millions of years old and on the genetic and biochemical characterization of microorganisms with novel biodegradation traits.
A third collaboration has been established between scientists from the Center and the National Institute for Resources and the Environment (NIRE) in Japan. The focus of this collaboration is to develop and use novel methods to assess the distribution in the environment of genes required for the catabolism of pollutants. These collaborations provide our students with exposure to excellent and unique science and a perspective of how science is conducted in other cultures.
The Center also has initiated an international collaboration to integrate existing databases with information on microorganisms. The goal of this project is to enhance access to these databases in ways that will allow investigators to understand better the evolutionary relationships among microorganisms and their characteristics. This collaboration includes the American Type Culture Collection, the Japanese Collection of Microorganisms, the German Culture Collection, the Ribosomal Database Project (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), and Bergey's Manual Trust.
Findings of the Center's research program have been communicated to the private sector through the publication of numerous papers in the scientific literature. Some notable examples include:
|For a more detailed listing go to CME Publications|
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