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Theme 1: Symbiosis dynamics and discovery

We characterize diversity of phenotypes and genotypes in symbioses — including nested genetic elements, microbes, plants, and animals — as well as additional interacting genomes that have not yet been recognized. This theme will provide the foundational data on natural levels of variation that form the basis for understanding how symbioses contribute to eco- evolutionary dynamics in nature.

Theme 2: Rules of engagement

We add the determinants of host–symbiont specificity and define the molecular basis of extended phenotypes to create a multilevel feedback model to explain the structure of natural variation observed in Theme 1. We establish predictive ecological and evolutionary models based on molecular characterization of the establishment of and ongoing intracellular interactions during symbiosis. This theme targets foundational building blocks toward our long-term goal to predict, from relatively easily obtainable genomic data, the responses of natural populations to disturbance and environmental change.

Theme 3: Symbioses as engines of rapid adaptation – eco-evolutionary feedbacks

We identify the feedback responses within symbioses to changes in the community. We develop multiscale models to describe the impacts of nested symbiosis on community dynamics and ecosystem responses to environmental change. This theme will integrate from molecular mechanisms to community dynamics to make evidence-based predictions about the ways that communities respond to environmental change.

Theme 4: Integrated education

This theme will transform our training programs to prepare the next generation of scientists to integrate across hierarchical scales to solve complex problems of both scientific and societal concern. Undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral trainees work effectively in diverse interdisciplinary teams and have the knowledge, tools, and skills required to synthesize information across scales.

Theme 5: Outreach

This theme will inform the development of new materials for several target audiences, including middle and high school teachers and their students, grade school students in workshop settings and the general public. Our outreach and education plans will cross-pollinate: trainees will be integrated into established outreach programs in which our faculty already actively participate. Training in scientific communication for students and postdocs will be actualized during authentic work with outreach professionals and the public and assessed by trained education professionals. The flexibility and diversity of activities will allow our trainees to develop an individualized public engagement portfolio that best meets their career goals.

Theme 6: STEM equity and inclusion

We actively recruit trainees from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM and emphasize the power of diverse teams with all our trainees. We have adapted our classroom pedagogy and laboratory training to be supportive of and compatible with the diversity of our research team. We work to increase participation of under-represented groups in laboratory and field science through our outreach activities as well, including integrating undergraduates from local community colleges into research and education.

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