McFall-Ngai paves the way to lead the life and environmental sciences at Carnegie

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The University of Hawaii at Mānoa’s pioneering microbiome researcher Margaret McFall-Ngai has been named the first director of a newly created research division of the Carnegie Institution for Sciences that will focus on the life and environmental sciences.

Margaret McFall-Ngai, right, with Matthew Medeiros in the Waimea Valley.

McFall-Ngai, Guggenheim Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology, joined Carnegie in January 2022.

“Margaret McFall-Ngai has here at the University of Hawaii on the interaction between humans and the environmental microbiome. She broke new ground with her own research on Hawaiian bobtail squid at the Kewalo Marine Lab, which has influenced many students and scientists here AH and beyond, “said AH president David Lassner. “But more importantly, Margaret during her years here with us helped us think differently about the life sciences, and she led the development of our next generation of creative and collaborative researchers and students who help us understand ours and to maintain ina and with it our people. “

Margaret McFall-Ngai, groundbreaking researcher

“This is a turning point in biology,” said McFall-Ngai. “We found that the microbial world is fundamental to biology. It is the biggest change in our view of the biosphere since Darwin. “

McFall-Ngai has applied for a faculty emeritus position and an unpaid position that would allow her to continue writing fellowships with researchers in AH Mānoa, which in their opinion is now an important microbiome research center.

Microbiome Mecca

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Baby Hawaiian Bobtail Squid. (Photo credit: Margaret McFall-Ngai)

In 1996, McFall-Ngai became the first female employee at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. In 2004 she moved to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and held a number of prestigious positions before moving on. returned AH in 2015 as Director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC). Much of her research has focused on the relationship between the Hawaiian bobtail squid and the glowing bacterium Vibrio Fischeri. Using this model, she and other researchers are studying how the microbiome shapes various aspects of animal and plant life, including development and longevity.

In 2017, a group of interdisciplinary researchers, including McFall-Ngai, was one of the winners of the AH Mānoa provost’s first strategic investment competition. This initial investment of $ 700,000 helped establish the Center for Microbiome Analysis through Island Knowledge and Investigation (C-MĀIKI). Since that initial investment C-MĀIKI has generated more than $ 14 million in extracurricular funding to support research and curriculum development. Meanwhile, McFall-Ngai was one of the group’s key advisors.

McFall-Ngai in a laboratory

“They are people who explore the microbial world – what we call the Earth’s microbiome. And these microbiomes are the foundation of the health of absolutely everything, ”she said. “From the oceans to the soils to the forests – every animal is influenced by its interaction with the microbial world and every plant.”

In 2018, the WM Keck Foundation awarded $ 1 million to an interdisciplinary research group led by McFall-Ngai for a groundbreaking project AH Project covering the Waimea watershed on the north coast of Oahu, Hawaii as a model microbiome mesocosm, ie a study site that is small enough to conduct thorough investigations but large enough to reveal the complexity of natural systems. It was the first study of an entire watershed, from ridge to reef, to map their microbial communities and ecosystem processes.

That same year, McFall-Ngai received from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The MERIT or Method to Extend Research In Time awards have been given since 1986 to “clearly superior” researchers who have demonstrated a high level of competence and productivity in previous research efforts and “who are highly likely to continue to perform well”.

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Edward “Ned” Ruby

McFall-Ngai and Researcher Ned Ruby served as principal researcher for a $ 10.4 million scholarship to be awarded in 2019 to an interdisciplinary group of junior researchers from the NIH Centers of Excellence in Biomedical Research (COBRE) in support of the first center focusing on the interface between environmental microbiomes and human health.

Many of the researchers who are part of the COBRE Scholarship are housed in AH Mānoa’s new life sciences building. The aim of the three “cores” – microscopy, insect and molecular biology / biochemistry – is to develop the tools to understand the interface between human and environmental health and the microbial forces at work.

“The COBRE is a gift to AH. It is an opportunity to create an active center for studying the dynamic relationship between Earth’s microbiomes and human health, ”said McFall-Ngai. “This gift does not only benefit researchers AH, but the center has every opportunity to be a Mecca for researchers from all over the country and all over the world. “

AH‘s microbiome future

Joanne Yew is holding a vial that has been collected in the field Drosophila sp. or vinegar flies from the Waimea site

With McFall-Ngais and Ruby’s exits, others AH Scientists take on the main research tasks for the COBRE grant.

“What I had hoped for from the COBRE The point is that we could become something of a Smithsonian tropical research institute, but in the central Pacific for people who want to study the interface between the microbial world and other aspects of the environment, “she said.

Lassner concluded, “We will forever be grateful to Margaret for guiding her Hawaii to the forefront of environmental microbiome research and we look forward to our future collaborations when she takes up her new position at the Carnegie Institute for Science. “

  • Related AH Messages Stories:
    • Human and environmental health research is evolving over Hawaii Landscape, December 11, 2020
    • $ 10.4m grant AH Researchers Link Environmental Microbiomes to Human Health, Jan. 21, 2019
    • Prestigious $ 5m Award for AH Microbe researchers, July 31, 2018
    • Groundbreaking microbiome research receives 1st prize U.S. dollarm Scholarship from the WM Keck Foundation, September 17, 2018
    • Native squid and its bacteria may help human and environmental health, February 5, 2017


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