Project Description

The HBCU-RISE Center for Microbial Ecology, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, and Water Quality Program

The HBCU-RISE Center for Microbial Ecology, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, and Water Quality at the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Environmental Sciences Institute is funded under the auspices of a grant from The National Science Foundation Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Infrastructure for Science and Engineering (HBCU-RISE) Program in the Human Resource Development Division, Directorate of Education and Human Resources.

As the Center’s name implies, the objectives of the FAMU HBCU-RISE Center are to:

1) Provide high quality research projects under the general theme of Microbial Ecology, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and Water Quality for training and graduating minority doctoral scientists, particularly African Americans.


2) Graduate American citizens belonging to groups underrepresented in the sciences who are trained in mentorship of students and pedagogy.


3) To build the scientific infrastructure at FAMU to sustain a Center of Microbial Ecology, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and Water Quality to ensure continued production of underrepresented doctoral degree holders in these fields.

The outcome of these objectives will be a population of graduate and undergraduate students equipped with knowledge, experience, and products, including a record of quality publications, who are well positioned to continue to develop as professional scientists in a globally competitive environment.


“It is astonishing but true-microbes are responsible for maintaining life on Earth. By driving global cycles of oxygen, carbon, and other essential elements, microbes have created the atmosphere, soil, and sediment that support the remarkable diversity of animals and plants….” (From the report from the American Academy of Microbiology entitled The Global Genome Question, 2004). To perform these important functions the microbial community must be in balance with the environment. Therefore it is essential to understand those factors, both biotic and abiotic, that regulate microbial populations in nature. One important factor is predation of bacteria. Bdellovibrio and Like Organisms (BALOs) are obligate predators of many Gram-negative bacteria and have the potential to influence the biomass, composition and structure of bacterial communities. However, their interactions with the activities of aquatic viruses and protists, which are also predators of bacteria, are largely unknown.  Understanding the combined role of these agents in bacterial mortality will be a significant contribution to the field. The PI, Henry Neal Williams, is one of few experts on the ecology of the BALOs.

The projects included within the HBCU RISE Center will yield 1) continued studies elucidating the role of BALOs in regulating bacterial populations in aquatic systems  2) research on the interactions of bacteria and viruses with vibrios and the influence of environmental conditions on their ecology 3) production of graduate students from groups  underrepresented in the sciences who have high-quality research training and preparation to assume professional positions in academia, government or private industry. To accomplish these goals, Dr. Williams has assembled an outstanding multidisciplinary team of collaborators highly regarded in their respective fields of research. They include Drs. Jonathan Badger – J Craig Venter Institute, Rachael T. Noble – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences, and Darrell Jay Grimes, University of Southern Mississippi – Dept of Coastal Sciences.

The HBCU RISE program was built upon the highly productive Molecular Microbial Ecology Laboratory (MME Lab) initiated in 2005 by Principal Investigator Williams, with support from the 2005 HBCU RISE award.  The MME Laboratory was the precursor to the current HBCU RISE Center. Since its inception, its students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and collaborators have produced a number of presentations at national and international meetings, other grant awards, publications in peer-reviewed journals including an article in the highly regarded Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  This is a rare accomplishment by an HBCU team.  The current Center has supported four Ph.D. students, three M.S. students, three undergraduate students and a postdoctoral fellow. With funding from the HBCU-RISE Program, molecular microbial ecology is one of the most rapidly growing academic areas in the ESI in student recruitment, grant applications submitted and student/faculty presentations and publications. HBCU RISE Center students will be provided opportunities to engage in cutting edge research, attend and present their research findings at scientific meetings and participate in professional training and development activities. One example is the sequencing and comparative genome project led by Dr.  Jonathan Badger at the J. Craig Venter Institute/The Institute of Genomic Research (JCVI/TIGR) that will examine genetic influences on the ecological behavior of the BALOs. HBCU RISE students  students will gain knowledge and hands-on experience at JCVI/TIGR, one of the world’s foremost gene sequencing facilities. 

The establishment of the proposed HBCU RISE Center is consistent with one of the goals in FAMU’s strategic plan which is to increase graduate infrastructure, support faculty research and promote environmental sciences and biotechnology research  (pages 4, 5, 14, 15 of the FAMU Strategic Plan available at The Center training and research activities also address the gross underrepresentation of African Americans and other minority groups in the STEM areas. Both anecdotal and available data point to a major void in diversity among microbial ecologists. The activities proposed here will contribute to increasing diversity while also preparing students to be competitive.