UChicago receives $1M grant from the Keck Foundation to study microbiome dynamics

University of Chicago researchers have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to study how the molecular activity of the microbiome changes in response to the environment.

The research will develop and validate tools to study transfer RNA (tRNA), a molecular Rosetta Stone that translates the genetic information encoded in DNA into proteins that perform basic biological functions. New sequencing technology and bioinformatics software will help scientists analyze the activity of bacteria in the microbiome of various settings and how they respond over time to changes in their environment, such as availability of nutrients or competition from other microbes.

“To understand how microbes in the human gut affect health, for example, we have to know what they are doing and there aren’t good tools for that yet,” said Eugene B. Chang, MD, the Martin Boyer Professor of Medicine at UChicago and one of four investigators leading the project. “These new tools will be so transformative because they will allow us to see the dynamics of microbial communities and how they communicate and affect each other instead of just taking snapshots of what is there.”

The Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations. Founded in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil Company, the foundation supports “high-risk/high-impact” research in basic science, engineering, and medicine. This includes transformational science and projects with the potential to solve previously intractable problems. Deciphering high-resolution dynamics of the microbiome provides just such a scientific challenge.

The grant also leverages an existing strength of research at UChicago and its Microbiome Center, which connects researchers across UChicago’s Biological Sciences Division, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Argonne National Laboratory to develop practical tools that advance research on how the microbiome affects human health and environment.



Originally published in The Forefront, 8/15/2019