Please tell us more about the Moore Foundation and the Marine Microbiology Initiative
The Moore Foundation was created in 2000 by Gordon and Betty Moore with a broad vision to create a positive impact through strategic philanthropy. The foundation supports scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the organization is located. Gordon was a co-founder of Intel, and he and Betty deeply value science both as an intellectual endeavor and for the possibilities it brings to address societal challenges.
Within our Science Program, we fund several niches of basic research, including marine microbial ecology. The Marine Microbiology Initiative is the longest-running grant program in the science portfolio, which, since 2004, has focused on supporting scientists to explore and understand the microorganisms that inhabit in the sea. Communities of bacteria, archaea and microbial eukaryotes – and their viruses – are important because they support ocean food webs and have a strong influence on the ocean’s biogeochemical cycles, such as the carbon cycle.
We also recently launched a new international funding program with a focus different than our Marine Microbiology Initiative. It is called the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative and will focus on marine and freshwater symbioses where microorganisms play a part.
What are achievements or milestones that we might know you of?
It has been thrilling to see how the hundreds of scientists and others involved with the Marine Microbiology Initiative achieved success – from students and postdocs to technicians and ships’ crews. Much of this impact was driven by researchers developing new research tools for the laboratory, at sea and in situ. For example, as part of our goal of increasing the use of genetics in marine microbial ecology, our grantees are developing genetics techniques for marine microbial eukaryotes that will enable characterizing gene function and testing hypotheses about the roles of these genes and organisms in natural settings. Researchers are sharing these advances on the open methods-sharing platform protocols.io. Other researchers have created new analytical chemistry methods to study communication among microbial groups to understand the influence of these interactions on nutrient flow and food webs. And yet other scientists have engineered new microfluidics devices to observe and quantify microbial behavior, including in situ with natural populations of microorganisms.
You supported a session at FEMS 2017 on Marine Microbiology through a MMI Grant. What was your aim for this?
We were pleased to support the special session at FEMS 2017 on marine microbiology. We felt that at an international meeting such as FEMS – which includes diverse scientific focus areas ranging from antimicrobial resistance and food microbiology to ecology and molecular biology – we had an opportunity to inform those who are outside of the field of marine microbial ecology about the excitement and opportunities within this area of science.
Could you elaborate on how this has contributed to your organization’s aim?
We support the field of marine microbial ecology not only through grants to individual investigators, multidisciplinary teams and tool developers, but also by convening scientists. Meeting and workshop support facilitates the discussions and debates that are essential for driving science forward. Special sessions such as at FEMS are an important vehicle for showcasing leading-edge science and encouraging interactions among researchers.
MMI’s impact statement says: deciphering how the microbial engine of the ocean hums. What do you think are the biggest challenges towards this?
There are myriad challenges in marine microbial ecology. Examples include developing new methods for single-cell analysis, which has been making significant strides with more breakthroughs to come; overcoming barriers to developing genetics techniques to help create new model systems of marine microbial eukaryotes, bacteria, archaea and viruses; and devising data collection and computational modeling approaches that will allow estimating how large-scale ecosystem phenomena emerge from microscale microbial processes.
What key events, activities and news are on the Moore Foundation/MMI’s radar this year that the microbiology community should be aware about?
In addition to the recent news of the closure of the Marine Microbiology Initiative, we recently announced launch of a new $140 million international funding effort called the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. Our goal is to explore and decipher how symbiotic interactions that include microorganisms function, evolve and influence aquatic ecosystems. The symbioses and consortia of interest include those among microbes (including microbial eukaryotes) and between microbes and aquatic animals, plants and macro-algae (e.g. seaweeds). The possible roles of viruses in symbiosis need to be more deeply explored as well. We are excited about the potential to illuminate the mechanisms of symbiotic interaction and to understand how symbiosis contributes to ecology and evolution in marine and freshwater systems. It is important to remember that cooperation, not just competition, drives evolution.
Jon Kaye leads the Marine Microbiology and Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiatives at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He is fascinated by the reciprocal relationships between earth systems and microbial communities, and how these relationships change over time. He trained as a marine microbial ecologist and spent seven months at sea investigating seafloor hydrothermal vent systems in the Pacific Ocean. After graduate school and postdoctoral research, he worked at the Environmental Protection Agency as a science and technology policy fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.