A group of 48 scientists from 50 United States institutions called for more ambitious research into the tiny microorganisms that play a huge role in health, energy and farming. Known as the Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium (UMIC), the effort aims to vastly improve research on microbiomes, whether they be in the soil, water or the human gut.
The project would uncover the role of individual microbes which include fungi, bacteria, viruses, algae and more, and how they communicate with each other, their hosts, and their environment. The US-based program would have a 10-year time frame, and could be complemented by a European effort.
Miyoung Chun, executive vice president of science programs at The Kavli Foundation, said, "Over the past 20 years, new technologies have reshaped our understanding of the essential roles microbes play on our planet. A Unified Microbiome Initiative would develop the transformative tools and research teams we need to harness the power of these communities to improve human health, agricultural productivity, bioenergy production, and environmental stability."
Eoin Brodie, deputy director of the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said, "Technology has gotten us to the point where we realize that microbes are like dark matter in the universe. We know microbes are everywhere, and are far more complex than we previously thought, but we really need to understand how they communicate and relate to the environment."
Jeff Miller, co-author of the Science paper and director of the California NanoSystems Institute, said, "The initiative might hold the key to advances as diverse as fighting antibiotic resistance and autoimmune diseases, reclaiming ravaged farmland, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, and converting sunlight into useful chemicals."