Research Initiation Awards (RIAs) provide support for junior faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are starting to build a research program, as well as for mid-career faculty who need to re-direct and re-build a research program. It is expected that the award helps to further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, improves research and teaching at the researcher's home institution, and involves undergraduate students in research experiences.
Alabama State University's (ASU) HBCU-UP RIA is aimed at systematically evaluating the role of the thanatomicrobiome (i.e., death-microbiome) in the decomposition of human organs. The goals of the proposed study are threefold: (i) to establish a working baseline of the thanatomicrobiome (blood, liver, spleen, heart and brain) of human cadavers that have known post-mortem intervals (PMIs) (i.e., the elapse time since actual death), (ii) to narrow down the number of sampling sites (blood, liver, spleen, heart and brain) to one/three in order to provide an in-depth assessment of the thanatomicrobiome in selected organs in many cadavers, (iii) identify the microbial community signatures that could be used to accurately determine PMI.
During the two-year project, the award supports four undergraduate and one master student in molecular biology, microbiology and bioinformatics STEM training. The project has the potential for local, regional and national impact as a collaboration with researchers at ASU, the University of Washington and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, As a designated Experimental Program to Stimulate Research (EPSCoR) jurisdiction, the project broadens research capacity and capability in Alabama and contributes to preparation of a diverse workforce in the biological and computation sciences.
The project has the potential to lead to a tool that will assist in predicting the death interval for which, to date, no scientific method exists.