May 13, 2016
White House officials made a big announcement Friday about some very tiny creatures — the microbes that live inside our bodies and throughout our environment.
The University of Michigan is part of the initiative, having committed $3.5 million to the Michigan Microbiome Project, part of the National Microbiome Initiative launched by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Thomas Schmidt, head of the Michigan Microbiome Project and professor of internal medicine, microbiology and immunology, and ecology and evolutionary biology, attended the launch event at the White House.
On Monday, hundreds of scientists from U-M and across the country will gather in Ann Arbor for a microbiome meeting that will focus on how these "unseen partners" interact at all levels. Talks Monday and Tuesday, on the importance of microbiomes and fecal transplants, are open to the public.
The NMI brings together more than $520 million in new and existing federal, private and university funding to enhance microbiome research and education. These communities of microscopic organisms play key roles in the health of humans, animals and ecosystems.
U-M's pledge of $3.5 million includes funding from the Medical School's $15 million Host Microbiome Initiative and from grants that U-M received from the Howard Hughes Medical institute and Procter & Gamble Inc.
The funding created the Michigan Microbiome Project, which aims to drive discoveries on how to manipulate the structure and function of the microbiome in the human gut through dietary interventions, and to involve undergraduates in authentic research.
Discoveries made with and by undergraduate students will be used to help patients in the U-M Health System's Weight Management Program and Bone Marrow Transplant Program. U-M research has suggested that microbiome imbalances play a key role in weight problems and in rejection of bone marrow transplants by cancer patients' bodies.
The funding adds to an already strong microbiome effort across several U-M schools and colleges, fueled by nearly $45 million in competitive research grants and internal funding. U-M Health System doctors even perform fecal transplants for U-M hospital patients with severe drug-resistant infections that disrupt their gut microbiomes.
"This is an exciting day for all of us, to see microbiome issues receive such strong and focused attention at a national level, and the broad range of commitments made by federal agencies, industry, universities, foundations and others," said Schmidt, who also is a co-leader of the Host Microbiome Initiative.
"With this concerted effort, we'll make progress not only in answering key questions about different microbiomes, and sharing what we know and discover, but also in engaging the general public and science students in learning and training for future careers."