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K-State Today

September 16, 2016

Researchers awarded grant to develop microfabricated device for the rapid discovery of bacterial interactions

Submitted by Mary Rankin

Microbes persistently live on plant roots and are critical in promoting healthy plant development by helping the plant acquire nutrients and protect it from microbial pathogens. These microbial communities, termed microbiomes, are genetically diverse, and many interactions that occur between different types of microbes are unknown or poorly understood.

This is where a National Science Foundation grant of $300,000 will come into play at Kansas State University as co-principal investigators, Ryan Hansen, chemical engineering, and Thomas Platt, biology, both assistant professors, aim to develop a microwell array platform for high-throughput screening and discovery of microbial interactions.

The award is based on an Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research, or EAGER, proposal — a National Science Foundation funding mechanism in support of exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.

The goal of the project is to develop a new analytical tool to rapidly and simultaneously screen thousands of interactions among different types of bacteria in order to identify those critical in shaping root-associated bacterial communities. Uncovering these interactions will aid in efforts to make engineered bacterial communities for improved food production, plant pathogen protection and environmental decontamination efforts.

"We anticipate our platform will greatly accelerate the pace at which new bacterial interactions are discovered," Hansen said. "We are developing a tool that will be highly adaptable and useful for discovery in any microbial system, in any microbiology laboratory."

The project will establish a new and highly interdisciplinary research collaboration, combining a team of chemical engineers with a team of microbial ecologists.

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