Published: June 19, 2018

MSU’s Ashley Shade lands NSF Early CAREER Award

Contact(s): Val Osowski College of Natural Science office: (517) 432-4561, Caroline Brooks Communications and Brand Strategy office: 517-432-0920

Michigan State University microbial ecologist Ashley Shade has received an $800,000 National Science Foundation, or NSF, grant, jointly awarded by NSF’s Population and Community Ecology and Ecosystem Science Clusters in the Division of Environmental Biology. 

The five-year grant award, which begins July 1, supports research to investigate the diversity and functions of rare microorganisms in a soil ecosystem impacted by a long-term disturbance, with the goal of determining how they contribute to the system’s resilience to this disturbance. These types of microorganisms are thought to be important when environments fluctuate because they provide functions that help their ecosystem resist change or recover quickly. 

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue this project and am passionate about understanding microbiome resilience and its consequences for the environment,” said Shade, an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the College of Natural Science, and in the Department of Plant Soil and Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The Centralia, Pa., soil ecosystem, the site of a long-burning coal seam fire, will serve as a model of severe disturbance for this project. Surface soils will be collected annually from established sites along a fire-impact gradient so that fire-related community changes over time can be quantified. Bacteria isolated from field soils also will be arrayed into synthetic microbial communities to assess outcomes of competition between rare and abundant microorganisms.

“The National Science Foundation award will allow us to advance this research, which we expect to provide key insights into the links between microbial diversity and functions when environments change,” Shade said. 

Another goal of the research will be to evaluate the abilities of rare microbial taxa to persist given disturbance and respond to specific environmental changes that result from the disturbance. 

Collectively, these efforts will provide insights into the ecological roles of rare microbial taxa, as well a greater understanding for microbial biodiversity for community stability and function. Microorganisms, the smallest life forms, have large and critical roles in maintaining the health of ecosystems; their environmental microbial communities provide essential functions, including the cycling of key resources like carbon and nitrogen.

Before coming to MSU in 2014, Shade was a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation postdoctoral fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation at Yale University. She received her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.

“I am especially grateful for this award as a woman scientist who balances the demands of a research career with a young family, as my son was four months old when I submitted this proposal last year. It is an honor to receive the CAREER award, and I thank the NSF and my mentors and Michigan State for their support.”

Shade is member of the Earth Microbiome Project and the International Society for Microbial Ecology and serves as an editor for the American Society for Microbiology journal, mSystems, and the Society for Applied Microbiology journal, Environmental Microbiology.

Shade is one of seven MSU NatSci faculty members who received a 2018 NSF Early CAREER Award. The occasion, which marks the first time that seven NSF Early CAREER Awards have been given to a single college—and to seven women faculty members in the same year—is unprecedented at MSU. The five-year grants collectively total more than $4.4 million.

Ashley Shade is an assistant professor in MSU's Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the College of Natural Science, and in the Department of Plant Soil and Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (photo credit: Harley Seeley)