Tuesday, November 4, 2008


University of California, Davis
November 4, 2008


University of California, Davis, scientists who manage campus biological collections have received a five-year, $4 million grant to study fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a southeast Asian island threatened by the loss of biodiversity in its tropical forests.

An international team of collaborators will conduct biodiversity field surveys, screen microbes and plants for applications to human health and energy needs, recommend strategies to conserve endangered species and develop and encourage local conservation efforts, said principal investigator Professor Daniel Potter of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

The grant is funded by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a multi-agency program led by the National Institutes of Health with contributions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

"The alarming rate at which biodiversity is being lost in many tropical regions has resulted in an urgent need for such efforts,"
said Potter, director of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity.

Biodiversity refers to all living things in a region and to their interactions with each other and their surroundings.

The grant, Biodiversity Surveys in Indonesia and Discovery of Health and Energy Solutions, targets the tropical forests of southeastern Sulawesi, a poorly studied but heavily threatened area, Potter said.
"A study of this type requires collaborative research partnerships of unprecedented scope and complexity."

The results are expected to aid human health, energy needs and biodiversity conservation.

Co-investigators include UC Davis scientists from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Center for Plant Diversity, Museum of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, the Department of Plant Pathology, and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the Department of Food Science and Technology. They will collaborate with researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and three Indonesian institutions: the Indonesian Institute of Science, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, and the Bandung Institute of Technology.

The project is sorely needed, said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology. "For biologists, Sulawesi is the biological holy grail,"
she said. "It has a rich, extremely diverse and largely unknown insect fauna. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with our Indonesian colleagues taking a novel approach to examining the biodiversity of the island."

Potter described the research project as an extraordinary opportunity. "When the call for the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group grant proposals came out in the fall of 2007, several of us involved in management of the biological collections here at UC Davis thought this could be an extraordinary opportunity to initiate a project that would include study of organisms in the multiple taxonomic groups (fungi, bacteria, plants, insects,
vertebrates) covered by our collections and to engage in international collaborative research with implications for human health, energy needs, and biodiversity conservation."

Two other key participants in the project are Potter's former student, Jeanine Pfeiffer, research director for social sciences at the Earthwatch Institute, and Elizabeth Widjaja, research botanist at Herbarium Bogoriense, Indonesia. Pfeiffer, who received her doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004, has conducted ethnoecological research in Indonesia for several years.

"Thanks to the excellent hard work of many colleagues at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UCSF, and three Indonesian institutions, and with the wonderful guidance and assistance of the outstanding Interdisciplinary Research Support group in the Office of Research here at UC Davis, we were able to put together a strong proposal for an ambitious and exciting project," Potter said.

UC Davis is the lead institution from the United States, and the Indonesian Institute of Science is the lead agency from Indonesia.

The project is organized into six associate programs: macro-organism surveys, led by Widjaja; microbial surveys, led by Kate Scow, a UC Davis professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources; discovery of energy solutions, led by Kyria Boundy-Mills, curator of the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology; discovery of human health solutions, led by Len Bjeldanes, professor of toxicology at UC Berkeley; conservation research and vertebrate surveys, led by Andrew Engilis Jr., curator of the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology; and conservation partnerships, training and ethics, led by Pfeiffer.

"We will also be forming partnerships with private companies aimed at the commercial development of natural products for pharmaceuticals and energy production," Potter said. They have also lined up collaborators from several other leading research institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

Potter said the results of the project will make significant contributions to a broad range of issues, including:

* development of knowledge about the patterns of biodiversity in southeast Asia;
* identification and isolation of natural products with potential value for treating globally important diseases and addressing human energy needs;
* development of effective biodiversity conservation strategies and proactive outreach and education programs to promote those strategies; and
* establishment of models for effective and equitable international collaborative partnerships, and ethical and sustainable international sharing of biogenetic resources.

Numerous scientists at the three Indonesian partner institutions are contributing to all aspects of the project, Potter said. Professor Selena Bartlett, who directs the Preclinical Development Group at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, UC San Francisco, is working closely with Bjeldanes on the health screening activities. Other UC Davis scientists, in addition to Kimsey, include co-investigators Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and Ellen Dean, herbarium curator at the Center for Plant Diversity; as well as collaborators David Rizzo, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology; Douglas Kelt, a professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology; Irene Engilis, collections manager at the Museum of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology; John Labavitch, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences; and Phil Ward, a professor in the Department of Entomology.

Media contact(s):
* Daniel Potter, Plant Sciences, (530) 754-6141, dpotter@ucdavis.edu (Potter will be traveling through Nov. 27 and will have intermittent e-mail access.)
* Lynn Kimsey, Entomology, (530) 752-5373, lskimsey@ucdavis.edu
* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu

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