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New investigator program offers vital support for marine microbial ecology

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) today announced a new research competition that will provide vital support to some of the world’s most innovative scientists in marine microbial ecology and related fields. The new Investigator program will select 10–15 current and emerging leaders based on their potential to conduct cutting-edge research on the principles that govern microbially mediated nutrient flow and the interactions among marine microbes in ocean ecosystems. The Foundation will invest a total of $25 million in the new investigator program over the next five years.

The Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative has supported research in marine microbial ecology since 2004, stimulating bold ideas and breakthrough discoveries that are enabling a comprehensive understanding of marine microbial communities, including their genetic diversity, composition, function; their ecological role in the oceans; and their contribution to ocean health and productivity.

The competition will be open to researchers around the world, at varying stages of their careers, and who represent a variety of scientific backgrounds—from microbial ecology to biogeochemistry, evolutionary biology, bioinformatics, and beyond. The competition opens on April 2, 2012, with the deadline for submitting an application on June 4, 2012 at 2 p.m. Pacific Time. The final selection will be completed by December 2012. Each awardee’s home institution will receive a grant ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 per year in direct costs.

“Providing leading researchers with flexible but stable funding for a period of five years will allow them to take risks and think outside the box,” said Bruce Alberts, member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and faculty of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UC San Francisco, Editor-in-Chief of Science, and former president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since it was launched eight years ago, the Marine Microbiology Initiative has transformed the field of microbial oceanography by investing in the application of emerging DNA sequencing and biological sensor technologies, as well as computational modeling approaches to reveal the immense diversity and critical activities of microorganisms in the ocean. The first Investigator program ran from 2004–2012 and funded 12 investigators representing a portfolio of complementary research including evolution and ecology; bacterial, archaeal, eukaryotic, and viral organisms and communities; open ocean, coastal, and benthic habitats; and carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur biogeochemistry.

“Our Foundation supports fundamental leading edge research across the natural sciences and we look for areas ripe for a step change,” said Vicki Chandler, chief program officer for science. “The field of marine microbiology has advanced dramatically in the past eight years. The black box of ‘who is present’ has been opened and there are exciting opportunities to now learn ‘what they are doing.’”

In its next phase, MMI is tackling a need identified by the scientific community as both a challenge and an opportunity: uncovering the principles that govern the interactions among microbes and that influence microbially mediated nutrient flow in the marine environment. The new MMI Investigator program will run from 2013–2018 and seeks to support the research of an influential group of individual researchers who will be selected based on the significance of their past research, the quality of their current research, the potential for continued groundbreaking science in the future, a proven track record of working collaboratively and a demonstrated willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries, and the probability that their future work would contribute to the success of the initiative.

“The initiative aims to overcome barriers that currently hinder scientists from identifying and quantifying nutrient pools in the ocean, and from deciphering the genetic and biochemical bases of microbial metabolism,” explained Ajit Subramanian, program director for the Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative. “The flexibility of an Investigator award allows new and unusual collaborations. For example, a microbial ecologist, statistician, and geochemist could together develop novel methods that allow the whole community to ask entirely new questions about the genetic and biochemical basis of metabolic pathways in the oceans.”

The Foundation seeks scientists from a range of disciplines relevant to marine microbial ecology research. Candidates should apply at http://mmi-investigatorscompetition.moore.org/mmi2012 and are expected to meet the following criteria:
• Hold a tenured or tenure-track position (or equivalent) for a minimum of four years;
• Be the principal investigator on one or more active, major, competitive research grants.

Researchers wishing to compete must submit their completed application by the June 4, 2012, 2 p.m. Pacific Time deadline. MMI will employ an external panel of expert scientists to help evaluate applications.

Detailed information about the competition and access to the secure application site can be found at www.moore.org/mmi-investigators.


The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation and scientific research around the world and improve the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative supports discovery and dissemination of scientific findings and technological developments in the field of marine microbial ecology. For more information, please visit www.moore.org.


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