Five universities in Kansas will cooperate on a $20 million research project examining the influence of microorganisms in water, soil and plants on environmental and economic change, officials said Tuesday.
The National Science Foundation’s funding to the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University, Wichita State University and Haskell Indian Nations University targets the role microbiomes play in agricultural sustainability, water quality, plant productivity, soil fertility and greenhouse gases.
“This project will pull scientists together from different disciplines and different universities to work together on an important research area,” said Kristin Bowman-James, a KU chemistry professor and principal investigator on the project. “Microorganisms play an important role in a wide variety of areas that affect our lives, which ultimately can impact human health and the health of our environment.”
The NSF award was one of five announced Tuesday to bolster science and engineering research in Kansas, Alabama, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wyoming.
James Bever, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, said Kansas’ geography makes it ideal to study microorganisms. Variations in rainfall across the state make it possible to compare how microorganisms functioned in the environment, he said.
“In the pristine Kansas prairie, microorganisms play major roles in keeping the soil stable and keeping the water quality clear,” Bever said.
A workforce development portion of the grant will provide internships for 15 students interested in science fields through a collaboration with Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.