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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kansas NSF EPSCoR receives 20 million dollar grant to survey and study aquatic, plant and soil microbiomes

University of Kansas and Kansas State University researchers using liquid nitrogen to freeze a core of stream sediment collected from Kings Creek at Konza Prairie Biological Station,
photo courtesy of Walter Dodds, Kansas State University
     Kansas is one of five states to receive a NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 (RII Track-1) award this year.  RII Track-1 awards provide up to $20 million total for 5 years to support improvements to physical and cyber infrastructure as well as human capital development in research areas selected by the jurisdiction's EPSCoR steering committee as having the best potential to improve future research and development (R&D) competitiveness of the jurisdiction. Furthermore, the project's research activities must align with the specific research priorities outlined in the jurisdiction's Science and Technology (S&T) Plan. The other recipients of the NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 awards for 2017 are Alabama, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wyoming.
    The Kansas EPSCoR project titled, Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), involves the collaboration of researchers from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University,  Fort Hays State University, and Haskell Indian Nations University.  These researchers will work together to conduct surveys of plant, soil and aquatic microbiomes and then record their environmental characteristics. Because Kansas has large gradients in precipitation and agricultural land use, it is an ideal environment for studying these microbiomes.  Kristin Bowman-James, a KU distinguished professor of chemistry, Director for Kansas NSF EPSCoR and the principal investigator of the project explained “Studying these tiny living things can be critical to understanding several key issues for the state, including agricultural sustainability, water quality, greenhouse gases, plant productivity and soil fertility."
     The Kansas NSF EPSCoR research team will specifically focus on the plant, soil and aquatic microbiomes’ environmental characteristics as well as assess the ability of these microbiomes to influence crop production, soil condition and water quality. Major project goals involve the development of a mechanistic understanding of microbiome-mediated ecosystem functions; predicting ecosystem responses to changes in precipitation and land-use patterns; and identifying ways to select for and utilize microbiomes to produce desired characteristics.  Some of these desired characteristics could increase agricultural productivity or drought tolerance, determine efficient nutrient utilization, and enhance soil quality.
    In addition, the project team will seek to expand the workforce in microbial, plant, and soil science, genomics, bioinformatics and ecology with the intent to integrate the research into educational activities designed to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The educational goals of the project will encourage the participation of both urban and rural areas of mainstream, the economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students, Native Americans, and other under-represented groups culminating in an effort to expand the workforce in microbial, plant, and soil science, genomics, bioinformatics and ecology.

To read more about the project and the award go to:

Education and outreach funding is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas."  The grant's educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.