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Priority areas

All sLoLa applications must address at least one of the strategic research priorities for responsive mode grant applications, which are described on our website (see related links).

Where appropriate, as well as addressing one or more of our strategic research priorities (see related links), proposals are welcomed which also address the Council's 'building partnerships' priorities (collaborative research with users, research to inform public policy or increased international collaboration).

2015/2016 Outline call specific strategic area: Understanding complex microbial communities

We wish to highlight Understanding complex microbial communities in this 2015/16 sLoLa call with an emphasis on one or more of the sub-areas below.

Microbes constitute about a third of the Earth's biomass and exhibit remarkable diversity. In nature microbes are rarely found in isolation but in heterogeneous communities. Such communities are believed to be kept together by structural and functional associations such as metabolic dependencies. However, our current understanding of how microbial worlds communicate, share resources and interact with other organisms is relatively limited. The study of microbial communities is an emerging field, boosted by the increasing sophistication of 'omic technologies, advances in modelling and imaging, and better understanding of the relationships between microbes and their hosts or wider environments.

This priority area focuses on the study of the processes and mechanisms underpinning the formation, function, and maintenance of complex microbial communities, using a range of approaches and embracing any types of microorganisms. The scope could include the manipulation of the community to assess the impact: for example, synthetic biology at the community level.

Understanding complex microbial communities is potentially a broad area of research, but for this highlight outline applications must have a research focus clearly aligned to one of the specific areas below. Such applications may focus on understanding the behaviour and functioning of any appropriate complex microbial community.


  1. Biofilm formation
    Applications that seek to understand how biofilms encourage attachment and survival of microbial communities on surfaces and how the extracellular components of micro-organisms facilitate formation of 3D biofilms are of particular interest. Applications focusing on biofilm formation in a practical setting, including approaches to disrupt biofilms or to utilise biofilms for enhancing catalysis or production of novel compounds, are also welcomed.
  2. The human and/or animal microbiome
    Proposals that seek to advance understanding of the mechanistic basis of healthy gut, skin, oral (and other) microbiomes and their host interactions to maintain and improve health and (in the case of animals) combat disease, are of interest. Applications that provide a generic understanding across animal species including man, or which utilise advances from veterinary studies or human health to benefit the other, are also welcomed.
  3. Anti-microbial resistance
    Applications that address how the formation and maintenance of microbial communities facilitates gene-transfer, especially of anti-microbial resistance genes, and how physiological changes to the microbe in forming the community enhance or protect its ability to resist antimicrobial agents, are of particular interest. The effects of anti-microbials on animal or human gut communities and their implications for health, as well as understanding and developing anti-microbials which disrupt the formation of pathogenic microbial communities, are within the scope of this area.
  4. Soil
    Within this area understanding how microbial communities form and interact to benefit soil health is of particular interest, including interactions underpinning uptake and cycling of nutrients. The formation of microbial communities in soil also underpins survival of pathogens and persistence of anti-microbial resistance genes. Biochemical pathways involved in microbial community formation are also sources of novel compounds, and understanding the genes involved in these pathways could be a source of new anti-microbials or novel high-value chemicals.

Multidisciplinary approaches, the use of metagenomics, systems biology or multi-scale biology might be part of any proposal, but the call is not intended for applications that seek, as their primary focus, to develop novel metagenomic or systems/ multi-scale biology approaches.

Please contact Adam Staines, email:, if you have any questions regarding the fit of your proposed research to the strategic area.