NSF Postdoctoral Fellowships in Biology combine research and training components to prepare young scientists for careers in biology and provide them an opportunity to establish international collaborations and take advantage of research facilities and opportunities abroad. Forging strong international collaborations is mutually beneficial to the U.S. and the foreign hosts. This fellowship to Kevin Kohl supports a research and training plan to investigate maternal transmission of gut microbes in live-bearing and egg-laying lizards. The host institution for this fellowship is Universidad Nacional de San Luis in Argentina, and the sponsoring scientist is Dr. Enrique Caviedes-Vidal.
Microbes inhabiting the gut play an extremely large role in the ecology and evolution of animals. It is possible that gut microbes are acquired by newborns or are maternally transmitted. Most of the evidence for maternal transmission is from studies in mammals. This research centers on animals who reproduce by eggs and how gut microbes are acquired by hatchlings. Lizards of the family Liolaemidae have been selected for study because it contains over 150 species that exhibit variation in their birth strategies, some are egg laying while others are live-bearing. The chosen experimental system is ideal for comparing transmission routes of gut microbes between live-bearing and egg-laying lizards and the functions of the microbial communities using metagenomics and whole-animal performance assays. Overall, it is predicted that live birth allows for greater microbial transmission between mothers and offspring, yielding greater microbial performance.
Training goals include acquiring expertise in metagenomic sequencing as a tool for the understanding the functions of whole microbial communities. Educational activites and public outreach include mentoring undergraduates and maintaining a video blog to provide updates on research progress and disseminate research results. The fellowship affords an opportunity to establish an international collaboration with scientists in Argentia and is funded with the Office of Integrative and International Activities.