Friday, 27 May 2016

U.S. National Microbiome Initiative

Last Friday the White House announced that it was creating a National Microbiome Initiative to bring together scientists to study microbial diversity associated with the human body and our environment. The move will inject $121 million/year into microbiome projects from federal agencies as well as an additional $400 million from other institutions, including the Gates Foundation. In addition to monetary support, the NMI will foster collaborative studies, interdisciplinary research and comparative studies.

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, lakes, rocks, and the atmosphere. Recent discoveries have generated a new view of the biological world, one that recognizes that plants and animals are actually meta-organisms containing one or many microbial species. Inanimate surfaces, from rocks to keyboards, are likewise swarming with microbial life.

These microbial communities help define the health and integrity of their living or inanimate hosts. Microbiomes influence the behavior of diverse ecosystems, with effects on human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. Imbalanced microbiomes have been associated with human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma; local ecological disruptions such as the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico; reductions in agricultural productivity; and disruptions in weather and atmospheric conditions related to climate change.

Despite the exciting progress that has already been made in microbiome science, the knowledge and tools necessary to manipulate microbiomes in a directed manner are lacking. The NMI will focus on comparative study of microbiomes across different ecosystems to seek organizing principles that shape all microbiomes. Understanding these principles are necessary to develop approaches to reliably alter microbiomes to benefit individuals, communities, and societies.

Specifically, the NMI will have three goals, which were developed through a year-long fact-finding process that involved Federal agencies, non-government scientists, and a broad community of citizens. These goals are:
  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science and educational opportunities.
See: Announcing the National Microbiome Initiative

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle