People of SU / Science, Technology and Health

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust awards $120,000 in grants to Seattle University for scientific research

June 11, 2020

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The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust grants will fund research that will help improve maternal and child health and that will increase understanding of beneficial insects in urban gardens.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust recently awarded Seattle University with $120,000 for two research projects -- one that will help improve maternal and child health, and another that will increase understanding of beneficial insects in urban gardens.

“Scientific research plays a critical role in helping serve individuals, families and communities by driving innovations that support the common good. This was a fundamental belief of our benefactor Jack Murdock and it remains core to our work today,” said Dr. Moses Lee, senior program director for scientific research and enrichment programs with the Murdock Trust. “We are grateful for outstanding institutions of higher education, like Seattle University, that are helping lead this potentially life-changing work through their research while simultaneuously educating the next generation of scientists.”

These grants to Seattle University reflect Murdock Trust’s continued investment in the Pacific Northwest, having donated more than $1 billion to nonprofits that serve the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Since 2009, Murdock Trust has awarded $164 million to grantees in Washington, including 228 grants totaling $28 million for research.

One grant will help Heidi Liere, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, and her students study beneficial insects in Seattle’s urban community gardens, including residential gardens and yards. Liere and her students are working to understand whether the quantity, quality and connectivity of green spaces nearby – urban parks, forests – affect insects in the gardens, especially beneficial insects like pollinators and those that provide natural pest control by eating aphids, caterpillars, white flies and more.

“The insects are moving to and from the gardens,” Liere said. “So we’re looking at how the surrounding areas affect them.” Liere and her students will use 20-meter- by-20-meter plots in community gardens throughout the city and count bugs within them both visually and with traps.

The second grant supports Christopher Whidbey, PhD, assistant professor of Chemistry, and his work with students to study the microbiome, which are the microorganisms that live on and in the human body and contribute to human health. This project focuses on studying the vaginal microbiome because it’s associated with improved maternal and child health. If Whidbey and his students can identify how good bacteria help to lower the risk of preterm birth and infection, they might be able to recommend the kinds of probiotics that best support the health of mothers and infants.

“The goal is to develop probiotic strains of bacteria that help protect against diseases like bacterial vaginosis, intrauterine infection and preterm birth,” Whidbey said.

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