Margaret McFall-Ngai & Edward (Ned) Ruby
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Margaret McFall-Ngai

Picture of Margaret McFall-Ngai

Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai is a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine and Public Health, and member of the Symbiosis Cluster group, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Eye Research Institute.  Her laboratory studies two areas: 1) the role of beneficial bacteria in health using the squid-vibrio model; 2) the biochemical and molecular ‘design’ of tissues that interact with light.  In addition, she has been heavily involved in promoting microbiology as the cornerstone of the field of biology.

Dr. McFall-Ngai also currently holds the positions of AD White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and EU Marie Curie ITN Professor. She was recently (2011-2013) a Moore Scholar at California Institute of Technology. Dr. McFall-Ngai has been a Guggenheim fellow, and is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology (2002), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), and the National Academy of Sciences (2014).

Edward (Ned) Ruby

Picture of Edward (Ned) Ruby

Dr. Ruby has worked for 30 years on beneficial bacterial-host interactions. He was hired into the Symbiosis Cluster at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004, where he held the Steenbock Chair of Microbiological Sciences, and was Vice-Chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology. He has served on the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology, and been a visiting professor at HuaZhong U, China, and a EU/Marie Curie ITN Researcher at the Max-Planck Institute, Bremen, Germany. Recently, he was a Moore Scholar at the California Institute of Technology, and is currently Chair of the American Academy of Microbiology Awards Board.

In 2015, Dr. Ruby moved his lab back to the University of Hawaii. His current research uses (i) a broad-based approach to analyze how sequential signaling cascades and nutrient manipulation produce rhythmic patterns of bacterial metabolism that underlie the association’s persistence, (ii) new analytical and imaging approaches to discover novel pathways of signaling between the symbiont and its host, and (iii) comparative and functional genomics to discover principles controlling population-level interactions among symbionts.  

Research Philosophy

Divining the Essence of Symbiosis: Insights from the Squid-Vibrio Model

Development of experimental model systems reveals basic principles that underpin the essence of symbiosis and, more specifically, how one symbiosis, the squid-vibrio association, provides insight into the persistent microbial colonization of animal epithelial surfaces. 
 

Symbiotic Conversations Are Revealed Under Genetic Interrogation

This is an exciting time for biologists, and for microbiologists in particular, to begin to understand how animals and plants communicate with the many bacterial species that live in and on their tissues. Describing the genetic basis of this symbiotic conversation has become a new frontier of biology. 


Lab News

May 26, 2016 UH Manoa Partners in National Microbiome Initiative

On May 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new National Microbiome Initiative(NMI), a coordinated effort to better understand microbiomes—communities of microorganisms that live on and in people, plants, soil, oceans and the atmosphere—and to develop tools to protect and restore healthy microbiome function. This initiative represents a combined federal agency investment of more than $121 million.

For years, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has been making substantial investments—through faculty hires, endowments and facilities—and plans to continue to build capacity in the emerging field of microbiome research.

UH Mānoa is a powerhouse in the realm of microbiome research,” said UH Mānoa Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Bruno. “There are few, if any, universities with the number of world leaders in this domain—UH Mānoa has three members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) who specialize in this field.”

Along with long-established UH Mānoa scientists, recent and upcoming hires of faculty will support the NMI and advance related research discoveries. In the past two years, and with an allocation of $2.2 million, UH Mānoa has hired three professors, two junior faculty, and two related positions—all of whom address microbiomes. Further, theUH Mānoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) will invest $1 million in hiring two additional faculty to explore complex microbial ecosystems.

“Major challenges facing mankind, including sustainability of the environment, human health, and energy and food production, have the microbial world as a principal driving force in both the creation of the problems as well as strategies for the development of solutions. We have a great opportunity here in Hawaiʻi to participate as pioneers in the research of our microbial biosphere,” said Margaret McFall-NgaiNAS member and director of PBRC.


MORE INVESTMENT IN THE MICROBIOME FUTURE

In 2014, the Pavel family announced an endowment of $2 million to theCenter for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education (C-MORE). Professor David Karl, co-founder of the Hawaiʻi Ocean Time-seriesprogram and C-MORE director, is the inaugural recipient of the Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel chair in Oceanography.

UH Mānoa has invested nearly $37 million in construction and renovation of facilities that primarily support microbiome research. The majority of this ($22.5 million) went toward construction of the Daniel K. Inouye C-MOREHale, a state-of-the-art LEED Platinum building, which was dedicated in 2010. C-MORE, as a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, required a cost share from UH—a contribution of approximately $9 million as cash or in-kind support. The university will continue to support shorefront and ocean-going assets that provide unparalleled access to the coastal and deep-water environments in which many microbiome researchers work. These additional future investments are expected to be greater than $5 million over the next 5 years.

Microbiomes maintain healthy function of diverse ecosystems, influencing diverse features of the planet—human health, climate change, and food security. UH Mānoa, as a partner in the NMI, will advance the understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. From medicine to global climate change to deep sea mining, microbiome research is proving to be the next frontier—an area of research that is yielding new understanding and paradigm-shifting discoveries about the world around, and in, us.


UNIV. HAWAII PROJECT AND EXPERTISE

Numerous internationally recognized faculty at Mānoa actively contribute to this field of discovery. A sampling of some of these faculty and their research emphasis are listed below:

  • Rosie Alegado (C-MORE):  Influence of bacteria on animal origins
  • Anthony Amend (Botany): Environmental and biogeographic processes that shape the composition of symbiotic microbial communities and how differences impact hosts 
  • Gordon Bennett (Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences): Microbe-insect symbioses in native Hawaiian and pest insect systems
  • Edward DeLong (C-MORE): Develops and applies advanced genomic and robotic technologies to study dynamics of marine microbial communities from surface waters to the deep-sea
  • Ruth Gates (Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology): Microbiomes of reef corals and their contribution to coral health and response to environmental stress
  • Michael Hadfield (PBRC): Mechanisms by which surface microbial films induce the settlement of invertebrate larvae and thus strongly influence sea floor ecosystems
  • Wei Jia (University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center): Microbe-host interactions in the human gut microbiome that underlie the development of gastrointestinal cancer and metabolic disorders such as diabetes
  • Dave Karl (C-MORE): Microbial processes that determine how energy, nutrients and chemicals cycle through the open ocean
  • Margaret McFall-Ngai (PBRC): Uses simple invertebrate model systems to study how microbiomes colonize the surfaces of animal epithelia, the most common type of host-microbe interaction
  • Ned Ruby (PBRC): Mechanisms underlying microbe-microbe and microbe-host communication 

 

May 13, 2016 The National Microbiome Initiative

Summary: The new National Microbiome Initiative aims to advance microbiome science in ways that will benefit individuals, communities, and the planet.

Margaret McFall-Ngai and Edward Ruby were part of the committee that worked with OSTP to make the initiative a reality.


Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI). The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiomes in order to aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration. 

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, lakes, rocks, and the atmosphere. Recent discoveries have generated a new view of the biological world, one that recognizes that plants and animals are actually meta-organisms containing one or many microbial species. Inanimate surfaces, from rocks to keyboards, are likewise swarming with microbial life.

These microbial communities help define the health and integrity of their living or inanimate hosts. Microbiomes influence the behavior of diverse ecosystems, with effects on human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. Imbalanced microbiomes have been associated with human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma; local ecological disruptions such as the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico; reductions in agricultural productivity; and disruptions in weather and atmospheric conditions related to climate change.

Despite the exciting progress that has already been made in microbiome science, the knowledge and tools necessary to manipulate microbiomes in a directed manner are lacking. The NMI will focus on comparative study of microbiomes across different ecosystems to seek organizing principles that shape all microbiomes. Understanding these principles are necessary to develop approaches to reliably alter microbiomes to benefit individuals, communities, and societies.

Specifically, the NMI will have three goals, which were developed through a year-long fact-finding process that involved Federal agencies, non-government scientists, and a broad community of citizens. These goals are:

  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science and educational opportunities.

New Public and Private Investments in Microbiome Research

The NMI builds on a strong base of public and private support. Between Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 and 2014, for example, more than a dozen Federal departments and agencies invested a total of $922 million into microbiome science. Moreover, many universities have created centers and launched programs designed to accelerate the study of microbiomes, and private-sector involvement in microbiome research and applications has grown rapidly. These developments reflect strong interest throughout the research community and the broader public in understanding microbiomes across ecosystems.

The NMI will continue this momentum by coordinating and connecting ongoing efforts to maximize impact and by catalyzing new activities under the goals outlined above. To kick off the NMI, Federal agencies will together invest more than $121 million (in funds appropriated in FY 2016 and proposed in the President’s FY 2017 Budget) into interdisciplinary, multi-ecosystem research and tools development.

In addition, stakeholders and institutions in all sectors are today announcing new commitments of more than $400 million in financial and in-kind contributions that respond to OSTP’s national call to action on microbiome science and support the NMI’s overarching goals. These include:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $100 million over 4 years to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes.
  • JDRF will invest $10 million over 5 years to address microbiome research related to type 1 diabetes. 
  • The University of California, San Diego is investing $12 million in the Center for Microbiome Innovation to enable technology developers to connect with end users.
  • One Codex is launching a public portal for microbiome data, allowing for researchers, clinicians, and other public health professionals to have more access to microbiome data. 
  • The BioCollective, LLC, along with the Health Ministries Network, are investing $250,000 toward building a microbiome data and sample bank and engaging underrepresented groups in microbiome research.
  • The University of Michigan, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Procter and Gamble, will invest $3.5 million in the Michigan Microbiome Project to provide new research experiences for undergraduate students.

Click here to learn more about all of the commitments and announcements being made today.

To kick off the NMI, OSTP is hosting an event at the White House this afternoon to hear from community and research leaders about microbiome science, and opportunities for collaboration and progress. 

The launch of the NMI marks a milestone for microbiome science. We expect that by accelerating progress in this important field, the NMI will deliver considerable benefits to our planet and those who inhabit it. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that while microbes may be small, their impacts are mighty!

Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Feb 12, 2015 Margaret McFall-Ngai Featured in Nature

Margaret McFall-Ngai has dissected the relationship between a beautiful squid and its live-in bacteria — and found lessons for microbiome research on the way. News Article

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Margaret McFall-Ngai & Edward Ruby

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McFall-Ngai Lab
Margaret McFall-Ngai
Phone: (808) 539-7331
E-mail: mcfallng@hawaii.edu

Ruby Lab
Edward (Ned) Ruby
Phone: 808-539-7300
E-mail: eruby@hawaii.edu