Chicago State University, Associate Professor of Biology, Published for Microbial Analysis of Deforestation’s Impact on Infectious Disease

Oxford University Press will feature Faculty’s findings

Dr. SanchaChicago, Illinois – Chicago State University’s (CSU) Noé de la Sancha, Associate Professor of Biology and Field Museum Research Associate, will be featured in a collaborative study with  co-authors Ebony I. Weems (lead author, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University), Laurel J. Anderson (Ohio Wesleyan University), Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio (EcoHealth Alliance), and Ronaldo P. Ferraris (Rutgers University), which developed as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded workshop, Jumpstart Reintegrating Biology in Austin, Texas. The article “Centering microbes in the emerging role of integrative biology in understanding environmental change” focuses on the integration of different subdisciplines of biology, to reveal unexpected, cross-scale interactions, particularly between microbes and global phenomena (for example climate change, deforestation, and pandemics). The authors stress the importance of facilitating collaborations between scientists from seemingly different disciplines, as expressed in this publication “In our siloed research system, a microbiologist may find it easier to collaborate with a biochemist than a landscape ecologist or a social scientist.” And thus there is a need in science to develop, fund, and support cross discipline endeavors. The authors outline some clear examples where microbe centered research would benefit from a multidisciplinary approach and perspectives from researchers in very different disciplines. This publication brought together both animal and plant ecologists, who focus on both local and global scales, with microbiologists.

The research outlines an approach to address pressing research questions linked to anthropogenic-driven changes in the environment that would benefit from integrative biology or a cross-scale approach. The purpose is to encourage coordinated teams of researchers representing different biological scales to work together with a shared goal of describing and quantifying interactions within and across natural systems.

“This was the result of an NSF workshop I was invited to in 2019, as part of an effort to improve collaboration between scientists from different disciplines. Microbiologists and ecologists came together to outline ways that we can study links in microbes to global level phenomena like deforestation and climate change,” says Noé de la Sancha, Associate Professor of Biology at Chicago State University. “Given the current pandemic, we were able to describe links between potential factors leading to emerging and infectious disease as a function of deforestation for example. I am proud of the figure we were able to develop to explain these connections.”

“Science is evolving and we have to consider the global changes that are taking place around us from an integrative lense.” - Ebony Weems, Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama A&M University. 

“Microorganisms are an elusive component of biological diversity and yet they are the most abundant and specious of all life forms. Understanding how microbes respond to environmental change can help us to prevent epidemics, improve food security and nutrition and better plan the use of our natural resources.” Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio, Vice President for Conservation and Health at EcoHealth Alliance.

Scientific Research

For this study, the researchers argue that the current environmental changes stressing the Earth’s biological systems require analysis from an integrated perspective to reveal unexpected, cross-scale interactions, particularly between microbes and macroscale phenomena. Such interactions are the basis of a mechanistic understanding of the critical connections between deforestation and emerging infectious disease, feedback between ecosystem disturbance and the gut microbiome, and the cross-scale effects of environmental pollutants. Researchers believe existing techniques and data can answer these questions. Still, a concerted effort is necessary to better coordinate studies and data sets from different disciplines to leverage their full potential. Additionally, the researchers address the importance of biorepositories like natural history collections, like those at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where currently only about 1% of the 40 million artifacts and specimens are on display for the public, however, are essential for researchers from around the world for these types of research.