The National Microbiome Initiative


The National Microbiome Initiative

In early May, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy announced the formation of The National Microbiome Initiative, with the goal of coming to a more precise understanding of the tiny microorganisms. Microbes are found in humans, animals, plants, soils, bodies of water, and elsewhere. The importance of studying microbes has been stressed in the past by microbiologists due to their vital role as a foundational element of the Earth’s ecosystem. Federal agencies have made a commitment to contribute sizeable sums of money to the program over the next two years, around $121 million combined. Universities and others in the private sector will add in another $400 million. The NMI set out three goals for their future- to support interdisciplinary research, to develop platform technologies, and to expand the microbiome workforce. Developments occurring throughout the past few years have paved the way for the NMI- between 2012 and 2014, federal organizations invested $922 into research. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to donate $100 million over the next four years to the study of human and agricultural microbes. Additionally, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation will contribute $10 million for research concerning a cure for diabetes. The University of California, San Diego will invest $12 million in the foundation of the Centre for Microbiome Innovation; which will enable technological development. One Codex is cultivating an expansive archive of accumulated research and data. Many other organizations are also partners in the NMI.


Microbes have existed since the very origins of life on Earth, and they’re in just about every living organism in the environment. The average adult human body contains ten times more microbial cells than human cells. They are key in defending the body from disease merely by occupying space that might’ve otherwise been taken up by pathogens. They give the immune system a massive boost and protect against autoimmune disorders. Some microbes help improve metabolic rates. Others can prevent excessive stress and detoxify the body.  It’s easy to just focus on the role that they play in human anatomy, but that’s only a very small part of their overall significance. However, even the ones existing in other organisms have a massive influence on humanity. In fact, humans constantly rely on microbes for even the most essential life functions; including breathing. For example, bacteria are microbes. So are archaea (similar to bacteria), fungi, protozoa, and protists (algae, etc.). Some argue that viruses are also a type of microbes. Microbes in the soil partially determine the fertility of the land for agriculture. Every living organism wouldn’t be alive without microbes. Since they are so indispensable to the continuation and improvement of life on Earth, it only seems right to pursue a greater understanding of the organisms.


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The Potential To Change The World

Unlocking age-old secrets about microbes, how they work, and how to use them has the potential to change the world. New breakthroughs could revolutionize the ways in which the world works, and could solve some of the most prevalent problems in society. For instance, determining how to prevent the growth of crop diseases would be a massive step in ending worldwide hunger and malnutrition. And since so many diseases and ailments are composed of microbes, they are essential to formulating a cure. Obesity, type 1 diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and tooth decay will all be put under the microscope by the NMI. Discovering how to control and manipulate microbes to the advantage of scientific development is bound to enable access to solutions that were once considered to be impossible. If biologists find a way to use microbes to prevent diseases from ruining crops that would’ve been used as food, then areas of the world plagued by starvation and food shortages will be able to apply the method to boost productivity of essential food sources. Water shortages are also an extremely alarming and concerning topic around the world today. Advances in microbial science are very important in developing technology to extract water from nontraditional sources- a company called Ambient Water has created a line of systems that extract clean water directly from the atmosphere, which is the type of innovative spirit the world needs to avoid facing the type of severe water crisis millions of people. Another integral method of preserving water is to recycle and repurpose wastewater to prevent it from being wasted after just one use. A huge part of developing efficient wastewater purification technologies is the removal of any toxins in the water. Many of these toxins will be microbes like bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants. Consequently, studying the behavior of undesirable microbes like these is vital in knocking down barriers in water preservation.

Funding, Reasearch, and Development

Microbiologists, especially those residing in the United States, rejoiced with the news of The National Microbiome Initiative. It indicated that their government understood the importance of microbial organisms, and was willing to provide the funding to back research and development. While there are so many different struggles caused by natural processes in the world today, it is likely that a sizeable portion could be solved by advances in microbial science. With the forces of the federal government, prestigious organizations in the private sector, and the nation’s most elite scientists combined; there is no shortage of hope for radical advances in the future.

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