University of Michigan
Microbial Ecology: Relationship to Human & Environmental Health

Microorganisms such as archaea, bacteria, unicellular eukaryotes, and fungi account for up to 50% of the biomass on our planet. These mostly single-celled organisms cause the most devastating diseases known to humans and are winning the war we are waging against them with antibiotics; yet, we cannot live without them as symbionts. Disruptions of “normal” microbial communities within humans are responsible for numerous conditions of ill health. Microbes are responsible for many of the ecosystem services on which sustainability of human systems depend, such as maintaining water quality, nutrient recycling, carbon sequestration, and toxin degradation. Despite the central biological roles of bacteria and other microbes, our ignorance of their diversity, activities, and, especially, interactions with each other and with other organisms, including humans, is profound.

 

The University of Michigan is uniquely poised to take the lead in this critical interdisciplinary area. We have traditionally had exceptionally strong disciplinary foci in microbiology, with groups in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health focused on physiology and transmission of microbes as it relates to human health. We have also had exceptionally strong disciplinary foci in ecology in Ecology and Environmental Biology and the School of Natural Resources, where the few microbiologists have studied processes in soil and water. However, the ecological processes driving changes in community structure and function are likely to be the same, whether they are studied in microbes within human hosts or in soil or water or in macro organisms. To help us spring to the forefront of research and teaching in microbial ecology and its relationships to the environment and human health the University committed four junior faculty lines. All Positions have been filled