MicroTrop 2014: Combining Soil Microbiology with African Culture, Agriculture and Development Issues

Sep. 10, 2014
As part of a $2.6M National Science Foundation Project directed by Professor Richard Dick, and with the additional support of other funding agencies, MicroTrop 2014 was held in Senegal in May. The one month intensive course for early career scientists provided advanced training in tropical soil microbiology and classical and state of the art metabolic and molecular methods. Through lectures, round table discussions and field excursions participants were also exposed to the potential role of microbial ecology research for delivering solutions to the environmental and agricultural challenges of a developing country.
Participating in the course were 20 advanced PhD students and early-career researchers from the United States and African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. MicroTrop was organized by collaboration between The Ohio State University, Drs. Lydie Lardy and Sebastien Barot of the French Institut de Recherche pour le développement (IRD), Dr. Claire Marsden of the French Montpellier SupAgro School, and Dr. Saliou Fall of the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA).
Leading the training were internationally known soil scientists and microbiologists, including OSU Professors Richard Dick, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Brian McSpadden Gardener of OARDC, and John Reeve, Microbiology. Also contributing were scientists representing nine institutions from the U.S., Africa, France, and Senegal.
According to Amanda Davey, project coordinator for MicroTrop 2014, these scientific experts provided cutting-edge lectures and lab training on the full range of microbial ecology topics. She also noted, “Participants learned a broad-range of microbiological techniques for recognizing the metabolic, phylogenetic, and genomic diversity of cultivated and as yet uncultivated microorganisms from tropical environments.”
To enhance their training pairs of African-US participants conducted hypothesis driven and self-designed research projects, studying microorganisms in various natural and agricultural habitats as well as the unique aquatic habitat of Lake Retba, a lake to the east of Dakar, the capital city of Senegal which is known for its pink color and 30 percent salinity. The lab training emphasized cost-effective and appropriate methods for scientists working in developing countries and on tropical soils. After completing lab work, the data was analyzed and written up, followed by a public presentation. 
Aside from the scientific training, participants engaged in numerous cultural and interpersonal interactions to expose participants to the culture, agriculture, and environmental issues of Senegal.   To introduce participants to Senegal, the Director of the West African Resource Center, Dr. Ousmane Sene shared a lively lecture on the history, culture, and governance of Senegal.  A MicroTrop participant reported that, “MicroTrop was an amazing experience to meet scientists from diverse cultures, develop a network for future international collaborations, learn about research in the tropics, and to be immersed in the culture and environment of Senegal.”
Meals were taken together as a community giving lecturers and participants the opportunity to exchange ideas and get to know each other, which will serve as the basis for future collaboration. According to Dick, “Besides the advanced knowledge, MicroTrop provided participants a unique opportunity to develop professionally and a foundation for long-term networking along with a recognition that cutting edge microbiology research can be done in a developing country towards solving agricultural and environmental challenges in tropical ecosystems.”
For pictures from MicroTrop 2014, see our gallery.
Amanda Davey (davey.22@osu.edu)
Richard Dick (dick.78@osu.edu)