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$10.7M to fund University of Hawai‘i microbiome research

MANOA — Small-scale science is about to get a big paycheck.

Researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa this week were awarded $10.7 million in federal funds, as part of a multi-pronged effort to study microbiomes, the microorganism communities among and inside humans, plants, animals and the environment.

The funds, provided by the National Institutes of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), are set to fund projects aimed at studying microbial impacts on human health, as well as how Hawai‘i’s changing environment and differences in socioeconomic status impact microbiomes.

“We look at everything,” said Joanne Yew, Microbial Genomics and Analytical Laboratory director. “From insects to animal poop, to branches and leaves and plants, swabs, ocean water, everything.”

The grant follows a $10.4 million COBRE grant given to the university in 2019, which jump-started the university’s Integrative Center for Environmental Microbiomes and Human Health and spawned several projects on the connection between environmental microbiomes and human health.

The phase two grant is set to build on its predecessor by funding four related research projects, several of which revolve around drosophilia, more commonly known as the fruit fly.

“Fruit flies allow us to study this infection process of infectious disease — look at how the microbiome responds to infection — to start to understand conceptually what causes the microbiome to be stable or not stable in the face of infection,” said Andrea Jani, an assistant researcher with the UH Manoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center.

“And then we can take especially some of the ecological principles, the ecological factors that contribute to stability, and start to apply those to humans.”

Jani leads one of the four projects, in which she studies how microbiomes and disease interact in fruit flies.

Ellinor Haglund, an assistant professor of chemistry, is researching how fruit fly microbiomes interact with leptin, a hormone that regulates body fat.

Mohammad Arif, an assistant researcher in plant and environmental sciences, is studying how foodborne pathogens form on crops.

And Corrie Miller, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health, is researching the vaginal microbiome, what factors can influence it and its potential influence on preterm births.

Beyond its contributions to human and environmental health sciences, principal investigator Anthomy Amend suggested the grant will also more directly benefit Hawai‘i residents.

“Our phase one investigators competed for more than $22 million in external grants from the state and from federal agencies, and that all comes back to the state in terms of salaries and expertise,” he said. “So it’s really a boon for not just the university, but for the people of Hawai‘i as well.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or
Source: The Garden Island

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