The new science of ecosystem genomics integrates the large-scale science of how ecosystems work with the small-scale science of how genes and genomes of organisms interact with their environments. Ecosystem genomics promises new knowledge to sustain the biological systems that support, interact with, and are disrupted by human society, such as the agroecosystems that supply food to the world -- and, more generally, the plants, microbes, and insects that shape local, regional, and global cycles of energy, water, and carbon in both natural and managed ecosystems. The challenge that limits fulfillment of the promise of ecosystem genomics is transdisciplinary integration: fundamentally, an education and training challenge. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award to the University of Arizona will address this challenge by training a diverse cadre of scientists to catalyze innovation across biological scales and science disciplines. This project will diversify and improve inclusion in science and technology fields, key to enhancing intellectual strength and fostering transdisciplinarity. The project anticipates training an intellectually and culturally diverse group of 40 MS and PhD students, including 20 NRT-funded trainees. Trainees will be recruited from a broad range of disciplines, including genomics, data science, ecosystem and environmental science, hydrology and atmospheric sciences, ecology, and plant-, insect-, and microbial biology.

The BRIDGES project will implement a training program that combines (1) an interdisciplinary curriculum and a new graduate minor; (2) novel, social science-based ?Cultures of Science? training (integrated into the natural science training program), based on the insight that truly transdisciplinary research is not just a technical challenge, but also one of bridging cultural differences between disciplines; (3) team-based research experiences focusing on topics such as enhancing crop resistance to drought in the southwest US (with industry partnership); integrative microbiome science, data analytics, and genomics (with a US start-up company); engagement with biomes from desert to rainforest (at UA?s Biosphere 2); leveraging multi-omics technologies (with a world-leading U.S. government research laboratory); and global challenges in the Philippines (advancing sustainable rice production) and France (testing evolution-ecology theories with precision ecosystem experiments at the world-class Ecotron facility); (4) teaching and outreach experiences including at minority-serving high schools, (5) professional development training, and (6) an Annual Institute in Ecosystem Genomics Convergence, an opportunity for NRT trainees to advance proposals, share results of team-based research experiences, and participate in interactive workshops for professional development and training in inclusivity, pedagogy, science communication, and the practice of science. Results and successful practices will be broadly disseminated to the education community as the program diversifies and implements best practices for inclusion in STEM while fostering a new generation of transdisciplinary scientists in ecosystem genomics.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Graduate Education (DGE)
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Vinod Lohani
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University of Arizona
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