On Friday, May 13, White House officials made a big announcement about some very tiny creatures – the microbes that live inside our bodies and throughout our environment.

The University of Michigan is part of the initiative, having committed $3.5 million to the Michigan Microbiome Project, part of the National Microbiome Initiative launched by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

U-M scientist Thomas Schmidt attended the launch event at the White House.

The NMI brings together more than $520 million in new and existing federal, private and university funding to enhance microbiome research and education. These communities of microscopic organisms play key roles in the health of humans, animals and ecosystems.

U-M's pledge of $3.5 million includes funding from the Medical School's $15 million Host Microbiome Initiative and from grants that U-M received from the Howard Hughes Medical institute and Procter & Gamble Inc.

The funding created the Michigan Microbiome Project, which aims to drive discoveries on how to manipulate the structure and function of the microbiome in the human gut through dietary interventions, and to involve undergraduates in authentic research. Deborah Goldberg, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, helped establish new Authentic Research Connection lab courses in LSA.

Discoveries made with and by undergraduate students will be used to help patients in the U-M Health System's Weight Management Program and Bone Marrow Transplant Program. U-M research has suggested that microbiome imbalances play a key role in weight problems and in rejection of bone marrow transplants by cancer patients' bodies.

At the White House event, Schmidt gave a three-minute lighting talk on the Michigan Microbiome Project that featured Biology 173. Joining him at the event were Lindsay Green, a Bio 173 undergraduate student, Alex Schmidt, a graduate student instructor and Arvind Venkataraman, the postdoctoral fellow who helped develop and teach the course. 

Schmidt heads the Michigan Microbiome Project, and is a co-leader of the Host Microbiome Initiative. He is a professor in the Infectious Diseases Division of Internal Medicine at the Medical School, and in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He also holds an appointment in the Medical School's Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Read full U-M Health System press release

White House announcement