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Sogin Receives Inaugural NSF Grant to Further Microbial Interactions Research

September 8, 2022
Professor Maggie Sogin's research interests in the Molecular Cell Biology Department at UC Merced are understanding host-microbial interactions across marine ecosystems.
Professor Maggie Sogin's new NSF grant will fund her research of sea anemone, commonly called aiptasia, to understand host-microbial interactions.

Professor Maggie Sogin is one of 20 faculty members nationwide to receive the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) inaugural Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) award.

This new grant supports pre-tenured faculty in the biological sciences at institutions that traditionally do not receive significant NSF funding in this field, including minority-serving institutions, predominantly undergraduate institutions and R2 institutions, by helping them initiate and build independent research programs.

Sogin joined UC Merced in January 2021. Before that, she was a postdoctoral scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. She received her Ph.D. in 2015 from the Department of Zoology & Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Her research interests in the Molecular Cell Biology Department at UC Merced are understanding host-microbial interactions across marine ecosystems. Her research programs centers on exploring how animals and plants interact with their microbial symbionts and how those interactions are impacted by environmental change.

Through the BRC-BIO award, Sogin has several experiments planned that will allow her to explore how microbial communities interact with one another to benefit the animal host. She will use a combination of microbiome manipulation experiments and apply metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metabolomics techniques to explore how microbes interact.

“We will take the sea anemone, commonly called aiptasia, and treat them with antibiotics to try to deplete them of their microbial partners,” she said. “We can then assess their physiology in terms of how much oxygen they consume, how much they grow and how much they reproduce. We then cultivate these microbial symbionts from the sea anemone and take isolates and introduce them back into the hosts to determine if we can recover host physiology metrics and begin to get an understanding of how they impact host fitness.”

The other component of the BRC-BIO award will help broaden her research capacity and expand opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM. Her award supports a Ph.D. student and three undergraduate students — one each year the award is active.

“I am working on designing a course-based research experience for undergraduates, or CURE, to get students directly involved in the project,” she said. “The undergrads that will take the CURE will help us in isolating and identifying different microorganisms that are associated with aiptasia. Students will also get first-hand experience in learning how to perform scientific research and participate in everything from experimental design to data collection and analysis. My hope is to be able to provide many students at UC Merced with an authentic research experience.”

Sogin said this is the first major push towards understanding these microbial interactions, and if it's successful, it could be broadly applied to other systems.

“One thing I am excited by is the amount of data we will be able to generate from this project,” she said. “I believe it will help us identify new directions to pursue in this field and will help us identify new hypotheses that we can test in future studies.”