UMaine awarded $3M to train grad students to develop innovative solutions to serious health challenges

Advancing the understanding of disease dynamics at the intersection of human, animal, plant and environmental health is the focus of a new initiative at the University of Maine.

The One Health and the Environment initiative was awarded nearly $3 million from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program. 

“This One Health initiative is exciting because it leverages UMaine expertise across multiple fields to design innovative solutions to combat environmentally linked diseases, plus it develops the leaders who can address these complex issues both now and in the decades ahead,” says Mario Teisl, director of the School of Economics and principal investigator of the grant.

The five-year project, which aligns with the University of Maine System “Research and Development Plan,” anticipates training 71 master’s and Ph.D. students, including 21 funded trainees, from a variety of STEM fields.

The project will complement a current NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program that recruits 10 undergraduate students from around the country to UMaine each summer for an immersive research experience focused on One Health and the Environment.

One Health involves faculty from multiple disciplines, including biology and ecology, marine sciences, economics, wildlife, forest resources, entomology, and veterinary and animal science.

Andrei Alyokhin, professor of applied entomology; and Anne Lichtenwalner, associate professor of animal and veterinary sciences, Extension veterinarian, and director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, are co-principal investigators on the NSF-funded project.

Globally, as well as in Maine, environmental changes, an aging human population, and the increasing prevalence of infectious diseases of animals, plants and people highlight the need for training professionals in an interdisciplinary approach, according to the researchers.

As much as 60% of the emerging infectious diseases in humans have originated in animals, such as Eastern equine encephalitis, which was recently detected in Southern Maine. These diseases are costly to people and the community, the researchers state. 

Alyokhin, who has studied the spread of plant pathogens within Maine potato fields for almost 20 years, says he looks forward to “joining forces with other UMaine researchers to develop a workforce that can do high-quality science across a variety of disciplines while also supporting Maine’s farming communities.” 

The project will encourage interdisciplinary environmental research by trainees in a range of systems, from marine to terrestrial, rural to urban, and economic to cultural. 

“The emergence of diseases that pass from animals to humans is often driven by a combination of ecological, demographic, and socio-economic factors,” says Pauline Kamath, an assistant professor of animal health who is involved with the project. “This program will train the next generation of researchers to recognize these links and effectively work across disciplines to find creative solutions to complex disease problems, such as predicting the spillover of avian influenza viruses in migrating waterfowl, or mitigating the increase in Lyme disease incidence in Maine.”

Working with internship partners, including the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, the Trust for Public Land, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, will allow the trainees the opportunity to also consider management and policy challenges in developing solutions to One Health problems.

Training in cross-disciplinary communication will enable students to engage with diverse scientific communities, stakeholders, citizen scientists and the public. 

The traineeship is designed to increase the participation of women, first-generation students, veterans, students with disabilities and other traditionally under-represented groups. The project also will develop new graduate degree programs and concentration areas in One Health.

More about UMaine’s One Health and the Environment initiative is online.

The NSF Research Traineeship program recently awarded $49 million to 17 institutions across the country to develop and implement graduate education traineeship models in STEM fields. The projects will immerse students in interdisciplinary research and deliver training in career-aligned skillsets, that will enable the next generation of scientific leaders to tackle complex societal problems.

Contact: Elyse Catalina, 207.581.3747,