September 7, 2022 | Heidi Reid
NC State is taking part in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Precision Microbiome Engineering (PreMiEr) to research genetically engineered microbiomes. Duke is leading the $26 million research, and other schools assisting include UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T and UNC-Charlotte.
According to Mladen Vouk, vice chancellor for research and distinguished professor, researchers will study the microbiomes of built environments in order to decrease the number of harmful microbes and encourage beneficial ones.
“It’s a $26 million center that works on understanding engineering, the microbiomes in homes, workplaces and the built environments,” Vouk said. “We spend as much as 90% of the time indoors. And so if you have a place that has dust in it, or if you’re in a place that doesn’t have a healthy environment — mold and comparables and some other things — then that can be less healthy than something that’s light and airy and dry.”
Jennifer Kuzma, founder of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at NC State and distinguished professor, will be leading NC State’s effort in the research. According to Kuzma, researchers will take surveys to better understand the effects these microbes have on human health.
“These ideas or theories center on data identification,” Kuzma said. “That’s one area variable beyond biotechnology and, of course, research is going to be using a lot of public engagement to kind of understand what the public is concerned about so we’re going to be doing quantity surveys.”
Certain microbes in homes, schools and workplaces lead to certain diseases, and Kuzma hopes future infrastructure will be built using PreMiEr research in order to better human health.
“Microorganisms are related to the presence of what they call the microbiome and can cause certain diseases in the environment,” Kuzma said.
According to Vouk, framework that allows the development of high impact microbiome technology will provide solutions for societal health challenges.
“The deep connections between the built environment and the microbiome and human health is really a natural extension of the work underway at State as our efforts why and sustains genetic engineering,” Vouk said. “The center focuses on ethical and societal considerations of reengineering the microbiome, because if you start reengineering, genetically modifying the microbiome, you have to be very careful that you don’t induce some undesirable side effects.”
Vouk is very proud NC State is able to assist in the research and provide institutional support.
“Environmental health science research, education and training have been areas of strategic importance at NC State University for more than 60 years,” Vouk said. “And we are fully committed to advancing the vision and the goals of PreMiEr Engineering Research Center, in collaboration with, of course, other institutions.”
More information about PreMiEr can be found here.