The Joint Berkeley Initiative for Microbiome Sciences (JBIMS), co-led by UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, held an all-day “Microbes in a Changing Planet” symposium at UC Berkeley’s International House on November 3. Over 110 people from 11 institutions, including undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and lab scientists, attended to share their work regarding Earth’s microbiomes, learn from others in the field, and create new and meaningful connections to propel and strengthen this crucial research area.
Organized and facilitated by Senior Scientist Eoin Brodie, UC Berkeley faculty Britt Koskella and Matt Traxler, and JBIMS graduate student coordinator Asa Conover, the event consisted of 17 presentations regarding inclusivity in global change science, microbial responses to climate change, ecosystem and human health impacts in a changing climate, and the translation of basic science for microbiome-based solutions, followed by a poster session.
Director of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe began the symposium as the keynote speaker, delivering a powerful presentation titled “Enabling inclusive excellence in global change science.” Dr. Berhe’s talk highlighted programs that the DOE has implemented to advance opportunities for historically underrepresented people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, in addition to early-career scientists, to conduct funded research.
Referencing the DOE and other government employers, Dr. Berhe stated, “We cannot claim to be working towards energy and environmental justice if we do not address things going on in our own communities.” She emphasized the importance of building a vibrant workforce of diverse people that are not just recruited to the STEM field, but given opportunities and support to stay and succeed. Learn more about these efforts and opportunities here.
EESA Senior Scientist Bill Riley delivered a presentation titled “Modeling soil microbial processes and ecosystem interactions,” which centered around the importance of incorporating microbial functioning into climate and ecosystem models to better understand the importance and impact of microbes in a changing climate and improve model accuracy.
“Coupling detailed microbial models with ecosystem processes is essential to scaling up our understanding of the influence of microbial communities,” Riley explained, “and can help us to better study and understand different types of landscapes.”
EESA Staff Scientist Romy Chakraborty delivered a presentation titled “Reduced complexity microbial SynComs increase plant fitness under fluctuating environments,” which centered around an effort to investigate the impact of synthetic microbial communities, or “SynComs,” on plant growth under drought stress. Chakraborty shared the findings, which demonstrated that this “bottom up” approach of building microbial communities from single isolates had a positive effect on root structure, network, and biomass–even under drought stress.
Scientists, including those across Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley, Merced and Davis, and the California State University system, presented topics ranging from the microbial impacts on resource allocation in trees, to the microbiome of engineered water environments, invasive microbes, and targeted DNA editing of microbial communities.
This wide range of topics all fit into an effort of closing one knowledge gap: how can we understand and harness the power of microbes to predict, inform, and mitigate impacts of a changing planet. As microbes strongly affect global element and nutrient cycles, studying their functioning and responses to a changing planet and advancing scientific collaboration in this particular field are urgently needed to help human and ecosystem communities prepare for global change.