UM Researches of Microbial Symbiosis Unite Through U-LINK

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Miami have been selected as University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK) Fellows to study microbial symbiosis.

Symbiosis is the mutually beneficial interaction between species. Bacterial cells within humans, for example, play critical roles in aiding digestion.

Symbiotic microbes are microorganisms that dramatically affect animal and plant function, the generation and maintenance of biodiversity, and the overall health of ecosystems that humans depend on.

Through a proposal entitled “Uniting Researchers of Microbial Symbiosis at UM,” Helena Solo-Gabriele, associate dean for research at the College of Engineering and professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, and a team of UM experts from the marine, biology, ecology, computer science and geosciences departments will develop a systematic study of microbial symbiosis to better understand the fundamental processes that form the foundation of human and ecosystem health.

“Remarkably, the importance of symbiotic microbes has only recently been recognized,” says Solo-Gabriele. “The concepts of symbiosis are underexploited in their application to the design of engineered systems that rely on microbial processes to function.”

Bacterial cells that comprise the human microbiome not only aid in digestion, but also boost wound healing and other biological processes essential to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. In corals, algal symbionts power the construction of underwater reef structures, helping protect coastlines from the damaging effects of storms.

“Understanding microbial symbiosis goes beyond the health of coral or the interactions microbes have with plants,” explains Solo-Gabriele. “Addressing dysbiosis, [a microbial imbalance or maladaptation on or inside the body], as a potential driver of substance relapse and HIV/AIDS could substantially alleviate human suffering related to these chronic conditions,” as indicated by the project lead from the Department of Biology, Dr. Alexandra Wilson.

The ultimate goal of the research project will be to identify the unifying principles of symbiosis, building the foundations for identifying evidence-based treatments to mitigate the deleterious health effects of dysbiosis.

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