The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) has awarded Penn State a five-year, US$238,500 grant to establish a graduate training pipeline in reproductive microbiome research, as it relates to animal livestock and insect pests.
The program will begin recruiting applicants from the animal science, entomology and integrative physiology graduate programs in January 2024. Selected fellows will have the opportunity to expand their training and research on links between microbes and reproduction.
“This program will be the first of its kind, and it should help attract top talent in a growing area of research for improving animal agriculture and human health,” said Francisco Diaz, associate professor of reproductive biology in the Department of Animal Science and director of the Center for Reproductive Biology and Health (CRBH). Diaz will serve as director and lead investigator of the new training program.
The new grant is the result of a collaborative effort by faculty of Penn State’s One Health Microbiome Center (OHMC) and CRBH. The training enhancement program it funds will focus on training students to research interactions between the microbiome and animal reproductive cells and tissues in agriculturally important species, including chickens, cows and pigs, as well as insect populations that can devastate livestock health and production.
Future fellows will explore topics spanning the impact of the microbiome on fertility, pregnancy outcomes, lactation, hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis, sperm-egg incompatibility, pest control applications to curb insect-borne diseases and other health-related factors.
The training program — which brings together multiple Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences centers and academic departments — will include participation in the College of Agricultural Sciences' Dual Title Graduate Degree in Microbiome Sciences program, research, extension and outreach activities, leveraging faculty expertise in reproductive biology and microbiome sciences.
“This novel award is a testament to the collaborative spirit and research operations at Penn State and the Huck Institutes, where we believe in building transformative and trans-institutional programs that leave positive outcomes on our trainees, workforce and disciplinary matrices,” said Seth Bordenstein, Huck Professor of Microbiome Sciences, professor of biology and of entomology, and director of the OHMC. “Over the last year, our two centers worked closely together to establish a new path for reproductive microbiome science, one that will have foundational and differentiated growth potential for Penn State. This landmark achievement and other future integrative projects are priorities for us.”
Co-program directors of the Graduate Training in the Reproductive Microbiome program, include Professor Seth Bordenstein, Assistant Professor Beth Hines, Professor Ramesh Ramachandran, Associate Professor Paul Bartell, Associate Research Professor Adrian Barragan, Assistant Professor Erika Ganda, Professor Wansheng Liu, Professor Troy Ott and Professor Jason Rasgon.