Collaborator Release

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation identifies 16 leading scientists to pursue high-risk research in marine microbial ecology

JCVI's Andy Allen among new cohort of investigators

Palo Alto, Calif. — The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced its Marine Microbiology Initiative investigator awards today, providing 16 scientists from 14 different institutions a total of up to $35 million over five years to pursue pioneering research in the field of marine microbial ecology. The funding will enable researchers to explore how the trillions upon trillions of microscopic organisms at the base of the ocean’s food webs interact with each other and their environment. It will help scientists understand how the ocean’s most abundant yet smallest organisms affect the movement of nutrients in our oceans. The funding will also provide new insights—and lead to new and exciting questions—about our basic understanding of ocean ecosystems and pressing issues like climate change.

“Too often, the most innovative scientists are hampered by funding that binds them to a solid, but conservative research agenda,” explained Bruce Alberts, a Foundation board member and editor-in-chief of Science magazine. “These awards give scientists in marine microbiology the freedom and flexibility to take more risks, forge unusual collaborations and, ultimately, make noteworthy, new discoveries.”

The Marine Microbiology Initiative investigators were selected from a strong pool of applicants from around the world through an open competition. Awardees demonstrated creativity, innovation and potential to make major, new breakthroughs. The funding will go to individual scientists working on complementary aspects of marine microbial ecology and representing a variety of fields, including microbiology, oceanography, geochemistry, ecology, computational modeling and engineering (see full list of winners below).

“We’re providing some of the Louis Pasteurs of this field with additional, flexible funding—above and beyond that which they may already be receiving—to give them more freedom to pursue bold, new discoveries,” said Steve McCormick, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

“Together, these scientists will challenge the way we think about our oceans,” added Chief Program Officer Vicki Chandler. “Marine microbes make up over 90% of the biomass in the ocean, and we know they are critically linked to ocean health and productivity. But even with the advances of the last eight years in understanding who these microbes are, we know little about what they do and how they interact. With these awards, we’re helping support and connect scientists from across different disciplines to identify and fill these gaps in existing knowledge.”

Since it was launched in 2004, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative has accelerated the rate of discovery in the field of microbial oceanography. For example, through supporting DNA sequencing and new sensor technologies, the Marine Microbiology Initiative has enabled researchers to reveal the immense diversity of microbes in the ocean and the important roles they play in regulating both the ocean environment and our atmosphere.

“The Marine Microbiology Initiative supports exciting research directions that will lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of how microbes interact with one another,” said Bonnie Bassler, professor and Howard Hughes investigator in molecular biology at Princeton University and a member of Moore’s Science Advisory Board. “The new MMI investigators are creative scientists proposing risky experiments. Their research areas represent the horizon in 21st century microbiology.”

The current cohort of 16 investigators was chosen through an extensive review process that considered over 180 applications.

“The Foundation and its Science Program are inspired by these scientists and their work,” said Program Director Ajit Subramaniam. “Their research will help us cultivate a better understanding of the interactions of these microscopic organisms and the vast oceans they occupy. It is this kind of fearless challenging of boundaries that will shatter bottlenecks in our understanding and result in great leaps of knowledge.”

Marine Microbiology Investigators  

The Marine Microbiology Initiative’s open competition selected awardees with at least four years of experience as independent researchers. These scientists are leaders in marine microbial ecology and related fields, conducting synergistic and innovative research to uncover the underlying principles that govern inter-and intra-domain microbial interactions and/or that influence the flow of nutrients in marine microbial ecosystems.

  • Andrew Allen, J. Craig Venter Institute 
  • Ginger Armbrust, University of Washington 
  • Kay Bidle, Rutgers University 
  • Edward DeLong, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
  • Curtis Deutsch, University of California-Los Angeles 
  • Nicole Dubilier, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology 
  • Michael Follows, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
  • Jed Fuhrman, University of Southern California 
  • David Karl, University of Hawaii 
  • Victoria Orphan, California Institute of Technology 
  • Ann Pearson, Harvard University 
  • Forest Rohwer, San Diego State University 
  • Mak Saito, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 
  • Roman Stocker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
  • Matthew Sullivan, University of Arizona 
  • Alexandra Worden, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute 


About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation  

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation, patient care and scientific research. The Science Program’s Marine Microbiology Initiative strives to deepen our understanding of marine microbial communities. As the smallest and most abundant organisms in the Earth’s oceans, marine microorganisms play a critical role in maintaining the oceans’ health and productivity. For more information, please visit www.moore.org. Follow @moorescientific.