One major advantage of NSF Centers is to provide a focal point and means to foster high quality international collaborations. In latter years of the Center, we have recognized that this position is of unique value to the US and our students. Hence we have placed more emphasis on this objective.
The Center has long established major collaborations with scientists from Japan and Russia, as well as other smaller but strategic collaborations with scientists in Norway, Belgium, France, Germany, Korea and Canada. We also have been selected by the Brazilian CNPq as a primary site for their microbiology Fellows to carry out their Ph.D. studies, and the first Fellow in this program began at MSU last fall. Finally, an Australian group was just awarded a grant in which collaborative work with CME was an important component.
1. Japan. In 1996 we completed the five year international collaborative project with Japan under their International ERATO Program. A major goal of the Japan collaboration was to establish linkages that would foster US - Japan collaborations over the long-term. Several such projects have occurred. Two of special significance are currently in force. One is with Dr. Masao Fukuda at Nagaoka University, who was one of the co-leaders of the joint project. This project is focused on characterizing divergent oxygenase genes involved in PCB degradation. Some of these genes are being used in work at CME to construct bacteria that will grow on PCBs of environmental significance. Two papers from this new collaboration have been accepted. Most significant, however, is that this group has now discovered the novel pathway and genes of 2,4-D degradation in the a-Proteobacteria, a microbial group first recognized in our ERATO study but the basis of the 2,4-D degradation had been an enigma. The second collaborative initiative is focused on microbial biodiversity, and especially on microbial informatics. Dr. Tiedje and Dr. Hideaki Sugawara of the Japanese National Institute of Genetics (NIG) continue to communicate on developments at each location so that microbial informatics will be coordinated, not duplicated. Dr. Sugawara coordinated the OECD meeting plus WFCC satellite meetings on culture collection and database issues in February, 1999. Dr. Tiedje served at the request of OSTP as one of the U.S. representatives. This effort led to a statement recommending a working group consistent with our goals. Dr. Sugawara and NIG agreed to host a mirror site of RDP for better service to Asia, and Dr. Miyasaki, a computer scientist of NIG, visited CME in March, 1999 to work out details for the mirror site. The mirror site should be available shortly after release 7.1 in fall 1999.
2. Russia. Four unique opportunities arose from our collaborations with scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences institutes. First, was the opportunity to study microorganisms in permafrost soil cores from the Kolyma region near the East Siberian Sea in collaboration with the Institute of Soil Science in Pushchino. These soils have been continuously frozen since the soils layers were buried as many as three million years ago. We have over 10 full sequences of Bacterial and Archaea SSUrRNA genes amplified from DNA extracted from these ancient sediments. A group of the Archaea form a coherent cluster deeply rooted and distinct from other Crenarcheota representing a new "permafrost lineage". We have also experimented with new methods to recover those organisms that have lived 1 million years at -12°C so that they are not damaged by life at temperatures slightly above 0°C. A variety of new types are recovered under these conditions. Some have surprisingly rapid growth rates at temperatures of -2 or -4.5°C. An engineer who is a member of the Center has built precise temperature controlled and monitored chambers for this work. This work forms the cornerstone of our new initiative in extremophiles of cold regions and has led to a new LExEN grant. The second collaboration, with the Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of Microorganisms, has provided the dehalogenase genes that we are using in constructing PCB biodegraders. This institute also houses the group that is the focus of our third collaboration, the taxonomic group at The Russian Culture Collection (VKM). They are also participating in the database activities and participating in taxonomic research to define new genera especially among the high G+C gram positives. We have a fourth collaboration with the Institute of Microbiology in Moscow. This collaboration is focused on carbon and methane cycling in the massive tiaga wetlands. Most significantly, the Russians succeeded in isolating the first acidophilic methanotrophs. These appear to be different from the two known classes of methanotrophs and play important roles in moderating the flux of methane to the atmosphere. This discovery appeared in Science in October, 1998, and a paper describing this new genus has been accepted by the Int'l. J. Syst. Bact. Our NSF-INT/STC funded project with the Russians ended in 1998 with a total of 13 Russian scientists spending 1 to 3 short-term visits to CME for collaborative research. In 1999, we continued this program with STC money for 3 visitors to sustain what has been a very productive program.
3. Other country programs of note. A new collaboration just arranged based on Australian funding. On 19-23 July 1999, a workshop on "Molecular Techniques for the Analysis of Microbial Community Structure in Soil and the Rhizosphere" was held at the University of Western Sydney at Hawkesbury, Richmond, Australia. The workshop and pilot level research is funded by the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) of Australia through a grant to Dr. Janice Thies at the University of Western Sydney. The GRDC is a national organization supported by both growers and government whose objectives are for "a profitable, internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable Australian grains industry". The workshop was designed to introduce contemporary microbial community analysis techniques to graduate students and agricultural professionals. Twenty-two participants attended the five day hands-on workshop led by Drs. Terence L. Marsh (CME-MSU), Andew Holmes and Michael Gillings (Macquarie University, Sydney), and Janice Thies, Anne-Marie Vachot, and Liza Holmes (University of Western Sydney). In the workshop Dr. Marsh introduced RFLP and T-RFLP analysis of microbial communities as well as the web-based Ribosomal Database Project. The focus of the pilot scale research is to determine the role of the microbial community in the crop production differences seen between no-till and standard till protocols. With the no-till direct-drill protocols, farmers observe a stunted growth during early development of several crops including economically important wheat. If the structure of the microbial communities is implicated in growth rate differential, it may be possible to supplement or restructure the community in such a way as to regain the growth advantage of the tilled protocols. To this end soil samples were obtained from long-term research plots in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Comparative microbial community analysis will be conducted on these samples using T-RFLP.
Programs with Brazil deserve particular mention. CME has hosted four Brazilian students for Ph.D. work, all fully funded by Brazilian government scholarships. In addition, one Brazilian undergrad worked at CME in the summer of 1999. Dr. Tiedje was a lecturer at the Brazilian Toxicology meetings at the Federal University of Lavras. Collaborative research is planned on the effects of the mining activities in Minas Geras State on soil microbial communities. The first two of Brazilian students hold key academic positions which are leading to new opportunities for joint projects. We consider programs with Brazil particularly important because of their diverse ecosystem types, major tropical habitats, extensive resource base and importance to world agriculture production. Post-doctoral Fellows from Denmark and Finland received government Fellowships to work at CME beginning in 1999. This past year we hosted Fellows from Slovenia, Uruguay, Korea, Belgium and the Netherlands. This record illustrates how an STC attracts top level young scientists and leverages funding.
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