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NRT-URoL: Decoding the Mechanisms Underpinning Biofilm Function and Architecture in Extreme Environments

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an IBP member program

Academic Level:
Graduate Students (PhD)

Biofilms, communities of microorganisms attached to surfaces, occur in/on almost any environment and surface type. As a result, they have widespread impact on both engineered and natural systems including agriculture, industry, and human health. Extreme environments provide unique opportunities to conduct cross-cutting transformative science. Their reduced biodiversity and extreme physical and chemical conditions enable detailed characterization and quantitative descriptions of important physical, chemical, and biological processes. This National Research Traineeship (NRT) award to Montana State University (MSU) will train a diverse group of Ph.D. students to effectively engage and understand critical properties of extreme biofilm systems across multiple disciplines. The interdisciplinary research training will help to generate new insights that can control biofilms in engineered and natural systems. The integrative scientific training program uses innovative teaching elements that will equip participants with professional, communication, teamwork, research, and problem-solving skills that are broadly applicable across a variety of industrial and academic research careers.

The NRT trainees will use life in extreme environments to push the boundaries of interdisciplinary research, integrating meta-omics-based approaches with high resolution imaging to understand intricate and cross-cutting interactions occurring in multi-species and multi-domain biofilms. Students will investigate extreme biological systems that span the range of conditions where life survives, from the icy Antarctic cryosphere, to Yellowstone National Park terrestrial hot springs, to the hydrothermal vents of Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. Major research themes include: (1) using metagenomics to examine genotypic variations and commonalities related to metabolic potential and diversity in extreme biofilm communities; (2) investigating patterns of biofilm composition and architecture using multi-scale microscopic imaging instrumentation; and (3) identifying patterns of extreme biofilm development, expression of novel pathways, and signaling molecules using proteomics and metabolomics. The traineeship's project-based and collaborative science curriculum will help participants acquire the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary to converge across disciplinary boundaries to investigate the research themes, identifying properties and patterns of activity that explain biofilm cohesion and organization in extreme systems. Key elements of this NRT program are scalable and sustainable, including (1) a program that allows students personalize their technical training, curriculum, and mentor team; (2) seminars, courses, and activities that help trainees develop transferrable professional and technical skills that feature strongly across a range of research-related careers, and (3) recruitment, mentoring, and retention strategies that broaden STEM participation, foster mentoring and professional relationships, and improve students' research productivity. The program provides a holistic educational experience for the trainees, where innovative training elements thoughtfully prepare participants to thrive in a variety of research careers.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

Participating Institution(s):
(Click an institution to see all programs it hosts or sponsors)
Montana State University (Lead)

Program Materials:
 • Program Website 

This Program can be Described by:
Academic Disciplines:
Chemical & Nuclear Engineering
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Environmental Sciences
Genetics & Genomics
Mechanical & Industrial Engineering
Molecular Biology

Biofilm Engineering
Genomic Analysis

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This program is funded by:
National Science Foundation (NSF)

Page last updated 2/24/2024
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