Assistant Professor Jake McKinlay has received a $1.15 million grant from the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to examine how bacteria optimize their location within communities where nutrients are cooperatively traded between cells.
Diverse microbes are found in virtually every conceivable niche on Earth. In most environments, microbes live as interacting communities. McKinlay seeks to address how the ability of bacteria to swim and stick to surfaces influences their relationships with both cooperative nutrient-trading neighbors and non-cooperative nutrient-stealing neighbors. Such cross-feeding interactions influence important processes including human health, pollutant degradation, and the conversion of renewable resources into useful products, such as biofuels.
An educational component to McKinlay's project will involve direct participation of regional high school students through the IU Jim Holland Summer Science Programs. Additional high school students will gain research experiences through a collaboration between the research team and high school teachers, bringing experiments to classrooms as part of the IU Biology Summer Institute. This project will also generate an innovative storytelling platform that will provide an intuitive framework upon which to communicate detail-intensive and traditionally unpopular topics in metabolism and biochemistry to learners of all ages.
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty. Recipients are selected based on their potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their departments or organizations. Activities pursued by recipients should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.