The University of Manchester

The University of Manchester secures major bioscience funding to harness the activity of microbiomes for a more sustainable future

Scientists at The University of Manchester are set to receive a multi-million-pound grant to advance our understanding of interactions in microbiomes and how they might impact the world around us.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) strategic Longer and Larger (sLoLa) grants programme, takes the first major step towards understanding complex microbial communities and will support the move towards a more sustainable and Net Zero future.

The University is one of four institutions to receive a share of £18 million from the BBSRC to support adventurous research aimed at tackling fundamental questions in bioscience.

The project, worth £5.4 million, builds on the work of the Manchester Microbiome Network – a network that brings together the leading microbiome science expertise from across the University to deliver a step-change in understanding microbial communities, regardless of habitat.

Lead researcher, Professor Sophie Nixon, BBSRC David Phillips and Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Fellow at The University of Manchester, said: “Microbial communities, often called microbiomes, are found in almost every habitable environment on the planet. They exert a significant influence on each of these environments, whether that be the soil we grow our food, in the guts of animals, or even in extreme environments like geothermal springs – our target environment for this project. However, microbiomes are inherently complex and challenging to study, and their ‘rules of life’ remain obscure.

“Recent technological advances have allowed researchers to study the interactions between members of microbiomes for the first time. Yet, we have barely scratched the surface of resolving how these interactions affect the structure, function, and stability of the community as a whole.   

Over five years, the researchers from The University of Manchester and the Earlham Institute will concentrate on low-diversity communities inhabiting geothermal springs, using a powerful combination of biochemical, ‘omics, and synthetic biology approaches to uncover the rules that govern microbial life in communities.

Using a tractable model system, the team aim to engineer the microbial community both as a learning tool to test emerging hypotheses, such as the ways in which microbes depend on or hinder one another, and as a testbed for future biotechnological development.

Ultimately, the findings will facilitate the engineering of bespoke microbial communities to be used for a plethora of important applications, including new ways to bio-convert CO2 emissions into socio-economically beneficial compounds, contributing toward a more sustainable and Net Zero future. 

Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, said: “The latest investment by BBSRC’s sLoLa award programme represents a pivotal step in advancing frontier bioscience research.

“These four world-class teams are poised to unravel the fundamental rules of life, employing interdisciplinary approaches to tackle bold challenges at the forefront of bioscience.

“By fostering collaboration and innovation, we aim to catalyse ground-breaking discoveries with far-reaching implications for agriculture, health, biotechnology, the green economy and beyond.”

The University of Manchester’s research team includes seven researchers from the Faculty of Science and Engineering (five of which are based in the flagship Manchester Institute of Biotechnology), two from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, and one from the Earlham Institute – a life science research institute based in Norwich.

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