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Three CALS-affiliated projects selected for 2018 Data Science Initiative funding

Ten innovative data-driven research projects – three with CALS faculty as principal or co-principal investigators – have been chosen to receive funding from the University of Wisconsin–Madison Data Science Initiative. The average award amount for the two-year grants is $194,000.

Benjamin Zuckerberg, associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology, is principal investigator for “Big Data Ecology – Advancing the Study of Climate Change Vulnerability through Data Science.” The project will make use of data from eBird, an online citizen-science program that allows volunteers to enter bird observations from anywhere in the world. That data will be combined with weather and climate data to predict bird species distributions across the United States and better understand the effects of cold snaps, heat waves and drought on the vulnerability of species to future climate change.

Thea Whitman, assistant professor of soil science and O.N. Allen Professor of Soil Microbiology, is principal investigator for “Addressing Misclassification in the Microbiome: A Data-Scientific Approach to Propagating Uncertainty in Microbial Community Composition,” aiming to develop an improved method of microbial analysis. Currently, 16S rRNA sequencing is used to match microbes to their closest taxonomic neighbor in a dataset or a reference database, but accuracy can vary because matches are often not exact. Whitman and team aim to overcome this limitation by defining membership as a probability, rather than relying on the current all or none approach.

Federico Rey, assistant professor of bacteriology, is a co-principal investigator for “A Novel Longitudinal Study of the Association between the Gut Microbiome and Aging.” Rey will work with the research team to develop and apply novel methods to characterize the variations of gut microbial composition with advancing age and age-related chronic inflammation and associated diseases, utilizing the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) – a study of older adults who have been tracked since birth, and who, now in their late 70s, are beginning to experience rapid changes in aging and inflammatory related chronic disease burden.

More than 50 research proposals were submitted from across campus for the Data Science Initiative, which is funded by the Chancellor’s Office, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (VCRGE), Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Graduate School. Read more at UW–Madison News.