Home Biomedical research McFall-Ngai Leads the Way in Life and Environmental Sciences at Carnegie

McFall-Ngai Leads the Way in Life and Environmental Sciences at Carnegie



The University of Hawaii at the pioneer researcher of the Mānoa microbiome Margaret mcfall-ngai has been appointed inaugural director of a newly created research division of the Carnegie Institution for Sciences that will focus on life and environmental sciences.

Margaret McFall-Ngai, right, with Matthew Medeiros in the Waimea Valley.

McFall-Ngai, a member of the Guggenheim and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology, joined Carnegie in January 2022.

“Margaret McFall-Ngai has helped develop pioneering interdisciplinary research here at the University of Hawaii on the interaction between humans and the environmental microbiome. She broke new ground with her own research on the Hawaiian bobtail squid at the Kewalo Marine Lab, which has influenced many students and scientists here at EUH and beyond, ”said EUH President David lasner. “But more importantly, during her years here with us, Margaret has helped us all think differently about life sciences and she has led the training of our next generation of creative and collaborative researchers and students, who help to understand and take care of our ‘āina and therefore our people.

Margaret McFall-Ngai, pioneer researcher

“It’s an inflection point in the field of biology,” said McFall-Ngai. “We have discovered that the microbial world is fundamental in the field of biology. This is the biggest change in our view of the biosphere since Darwin.

McFall-Ngai applied for a professor emeritus and an unpaid post, which would allow him to continue writing grants with researchers at EUH Mānoa, which she says is now considered a major microbiome research center.

Mecca of the microbiome

baby squid
Baby Hawaiian bobtail squid. (Photo credit: Margaret McFall-Ngai)

In 1996, McFall-Ngai became the first female incumbent at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. She left in 2004 for the University of Wisconsin at Madison and held several prestigious positions before returning to EUH in 2015 to take up the post of director of Pacific Bioscience Research Center (PBRC). Much of his research focuses on the relationship between the Hawaiian bobtail squid and the luminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri. Using this model, she and other researchers are studying how the microbiome shapes various aspects of animal and plant life, including development and longevity.

In 2017, a group of transdisciplinary researchers, including McFall-Ngai was one of the laureates of the EUH Mānoa provost’s inaugural strategic investment competition. This initial investment of $ 700,000 helped create the Center for microbiome analysis through knowledge and investigation of islands (C-MÄ€IKI). Since this initial investment, C-MÄ€IKI has generated more than $ 14 million in extramural funding to support research and curriculum development. Through it all, McFall-Ngai has been one of the group’s primary advisers.

McFall-Ngai in a laboratory

“These are people who study the microbial world, what we call the microbiomes of the Earth. And these microbiomes are the foundation of the health of absolutely everything, ”she said. “From oceans to soils to forests, each animal is impacted by its interaction with the microbial world and each plant. “

In 2018, the WM Keck Foundation awarded $ 1 million to an interdisciplinary group of researchers led by McFall-Ngai for a groundbreaking project EUH project that established the Waimea watershed on the north shore of O’ahu, Hawaii as a mesocosm model of the microbiome, that is, a study site small enough to investigate in depth but large enough to reveal the complexities of natural systems. This was the first study of an entire watershed, from ridge to reef, to map its microbial communities and their ecosystem processes.

That same year, McFall-Ngai was shortlisted to receive a MERIT award of over $ 5 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The MERIT or Method to Extend Research In Time Fellowships have been offered since 1986 to “significantly superior” researchers who have demonstrated high levels of competence and productivity in previous research efforts and “who are very likely to continue to function in such a way. exceptional ”.

Edward “Ned” Ruby

McFall-Ngai and researcher Ned Ruby was principal investigator for a grant of $ 10.4 million awarded in 2019 to an interdisciplinary group of young researchers from the NIH Centers of excellence in biomedical research (COBRE) to support the first center focused on the interface between environmental microbiomes and human health.

Many researchers who are part of the COBRE grant are housed in EUH Mānoa’s new life sciences building. The objective of the three “nuclei” – microscopy, insectarium and molecular biology / biochemistry – is to develop the tools to understand the interface between human and environmental health, and the microbial forces at work.

“The COBRE is a gift to EUH. This is an opportunity to create an active center for the study of the dynamic relationship between Earth’s microbiomes and human health, ”said McFall-Ngai. “This donation will not only benefit researchers from EUH, but the center is likely to be a Mecca for researchers from across the country and around the world.

EUHthe future of the microbiome

Joanne Yew holding a flask of drosophila sp. or vinegar flies from the Waimea site

With the departures of McFall-Ngai and Ruby, others EUH scientists will take on the role of principal investigator for the COBRE to agree.

“What I was hoping for with the COBRE the heart is that we could become something like a tropical Smithsonian research institute, but in the central Pacific for people who want to study the interface between the microbial world and other aspects of the environment, ”he said. she declared.

Lassner concluded: “We will be eternally grateful to Margaret for leading Hawaii at the forefront of environmental microbiome research and we look forward to our future collaborations as she assumes her new role at the Carnegie Institute for Science.

  • Related EUH News stories:
    • Research in human and environmental health is developing through Hawaii landscape, December 11, 2020
    • $ 10.4M Grant to EUH researchers link environmental microbiomes to human health, January 21, 2019
    • $ 5 prestigiousM Price for EUH microbiology researcher, July 31, 2018
    • Pioneering microbiome research receives $ 1M WM Keck Foundation scholarship, September 17, 2018
    • Native squid and its bacteria may help human and environmental health, February 5, 2017