The mission of CIFR is to most effectively work towards combating the threat of fungal disease and to enhance industrial application of fungi through integration of a broad range of approaches and expertise within a formal scientific framework, to improve genomic research techniques through collaborative efforts with industry and technological partners, to disseminate related educational information to the general public and to provide training and instruction for students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists in fungal biology and genomics.
The vision of CIFR is to develop a holistic view of the interactions of fungi with animals, insects, microbes, and plants at different genetic scales from individuals to communities, and the environment, at scales from molecular to ecosystem. Developing a multidisciplinary view of the whole plant-microbe-soil system will position CIFR to be a world leader in the exploration of fungi in the biosphere to resolve societal grand challenges. To date, the focus of genomic sciences has been reductionist, by reducing a complex system, such as fungi-plant interactions, to its fundamental parts in pursuit of understanding specific genes or mechanisms. However, the fundamental components of a given system (biological, chemical, genetic, and physical) cannot be determined or explained by its individual components alone. Instead, the system as a whole influences how the pieces behave and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Assembling the fundamental parts to better understand the whole represents a significant challenge that only now can be addressed with emerging tools and resources for fungi, insects, microbes and plants. Additionally, fungi and plants do not live or interact in a vacuum and it is critical to understand how abiotic and biotic factors in their environment contribute to the dynamic complexity of associations between organisms. As our ability to sequence and analyze genomic samples has grown exponentially over the past few years, so has the realization that biodiversity is more than sequence or species diversity. While examination of genomes has revealed immense gene diversity and genomic structure between and within species, the mapping of genetic diversity to functional diversity in populations is challenging. Functional diversity, between and within populations, plays a critical role in microbial community assembly and function, as well as microbe-plant or microbe-animal interactions. As part of CIFR’s holistic approach to understand the complexity of fungal interactions, it is necessary to develop collaborations and analytical tools to address genetic and functional diversity within the context of particular environments.
The inter- and multi-disciplinary expertise of CIFR promotes multifaceted approaches to facilitate the study of complex and dynamic interactions in the plant-microbe-soil system. Fungal expertise forms CIFR’s core, coupled with the broad expertise of Center faculty in ecology and evolutionary biology, host parasite interactions, mathematical epidemiology, microbiology, microbial mediation of plant and ecosystem responses, population biology and genetics, and soil biogeochemistry. CIFR faculty combine this suite of expertise to provide a unique framework to address complex research questions, such as how natural or anthropogenic disturbances in microbial community compositions impact plant, microbe, and insect associations. These impacts can affect ecological, evolutionary, and metabolic processes, as well as the function of managed and unmanaged ecosystems and a deeper understanding of these processes will allow us to better predict and manage the effects of a wide range of perturbations. Additionally, CIFR faculty expertise in translational research creates opportunities to leverage interactions with the biotechnology and bioscience industries, locally and internationally. The complementary and collective strengths of CIFR faculty position our group to be a leader in characterizing the interplay among microbial communities and between these communities and plants to develop new fundamental concepts and principles in host-microbe interaction biology and to translate these concepts and principles into sustainable agricultural and medicinal management strategies.