New On Microbiology: Create A Global Microbiome Effort

Published online on October 28, 2015 by Nature, this article by Nicole Dubilier (Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Germany), Margaret McFall-Ngai (University of Hawaii, US)and Liping Zhao (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China) is now available to view.

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Microbes have been discovered on Earth wherever anyone has looked for them, from the boiling waters of Yellowstone's hot springs in Wyoming to the depths of cold, dark Antarctic lakes under 800 metres of ice. A holistic understanding of the role of Earth's microbial community and its genome — its microbiome — in the biosphere and in human health is key to meeting many of the challenges that face humanity in the twenty-first century, from energy to infection to agriculture.

Recognizing this, a group of leading US scientists this week proposes the creation of a Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI). The UMI would bring together researchers and representatives from public and private agencies and foundations to study the activities of Earth's microbial ecosystems.

The UMI is conceived as a US initiative; springing from meetings sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Kavli Foundation of Oxnard, California. But Earth's biome is not defined by national borders, and efforts to unlock its secrets should go global.

We believe that to be successful, microbiome research will require a coordinated effort across the international community of biologists, chemists, geologists, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and clinical experts. As three scientists working in three countries — Germany, China and the United States — we call for an International Microbiome Initiative (IMI) supported by funding agencies and foundations around the world, in addition to the UMI. This would ensure the sharing of standards across borders and disciplines, and bring cohesion to the multitude of microbiome initiatives that exist.

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Jen Thoroughgood

Former Head of Communities, Springer Nature

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