Proposal for a Unified Microbiome Initiative

By Ahmad Sabbagh ’17

UMIA group of leading microbiologists have called for a government-led effort proposed as the Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI) to develop research and new tools to understand the world of microbes that play such a large yet hidden role in human health as well as every ecosystem. Microbial communities, also known as microbiomes, are complex and diverse with critical functions ranging from maintaining the human immune system to producing half the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Due to their extreme complexity and diversity, scientists know little about how microbiomes function and have only had a few successful manipulations of these communities in their experiments. A greater understanding of microbiomes might lead to advances in human health as well as uses in agriculture and in environmental control.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has already begun efforts in unifying microbiome research across different government sectors. Over the last year, it has been successful in holding three successive workshops with scientists, funding agencies, and industry representatives to discuss the biggest mysteries surrounding microbiomes and methods for research and solving these mysteries. With government agencies and philanthropic science organizations like the Kavli Foundation pushing the effort, the formation of a UMI seems plausible and may be addressed by the end of the year. With a structured long-term effort, scientists can break down the complexities of the microbial world and can lead new revolutions in health, agriculture, and environmental engineering.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/science/national-initiative-microbes-and-microbiomes.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/10/dear-white-house-can-we-have-a-unified-microbiome-initiative/412828/

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6260/507

http://www.nature.com/news/microbiology-create-a-global-microbiome-effort-1.18636

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