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OU-led research team receives $3 million National Science Foundation grant

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Dr. Jizhong Zhou

Dr. Jizhong Zhou at the Stephenson Research & Technology Center March 29.

A team led by an OU researcher received a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to enable forecasting changes in microbiomes

To find the rules governing microbiome dynamics, the researchers will use laboratory anaerobic bioreactors, which is “an innovative waste-recycling method,” to determine the short-term temporal dynamics and long-term stability of microbiome biodiversity, structure and functions in response to various environmental changes, according to a press release.

“Through determination of the mechanisms controlling microbiome dynamics, this study will provide fundamental knowledge critical to predicting microbiome behaviors to enable science-informed policies for ecosystem management both in this context and much more broadly,” Jizhong Zhou, OU director for the Institute for Environmental Genomics, said in the release. “The project will provide unique opportunities for training the next generation of scientists with broad interdisciplinary, expertise and skills.”

Microbiomes are a collection of microbes in a specific habitat or environment made up of microbes, which are microorganisms that are “among the most diverse life forms on our planet, inhabiting almost every imaginable environment, playing integral and unique roles in various ecosystem processes,”  Zhou said in the release. 

Zhou leads the project “Searching for General Roles Governing Microbiome Dynamics Using Anaerobic Digesters as Model Systems,” which aims to identify general ecological rules governing microbiome dynamics per the release. Team members include Alan Hastings from the University of California, Davis, Matthew Leibold from the University of Florida, Qiang He from the University of Tennessee and three research scientists and three postdoctoral researchers from the Institute for Environmental Genomics at OU.

“This award is a demonstration of the impact OU research is having on global challenges in support of national priorities,” Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, OU vice president for research and partnerships, said in the release. “Zhou’s team will be advancing the National Science Foundation into the rules of life that will enable forecasting or prediction of changes in biological systems.”

In 2016, NSF unveiled a set of “Big Ideas” — ten long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for investment at the frontiers of science and engineering. One of these include the program “Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms,” which aims to improve understanding and establish the theory and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes, according to NSF.

For more information about the project, contact Jizhong Zhou at or Daliang Ning at  

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