Introducing the National Microbiome Initiative

A little over 6 weeks ago the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced the creation of the National Microbiome Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to advance microbiome research to “aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration” (1).

What is a Microbiome?

A microbe is a living thing that is too small to be seen by the naked eye. While bacteria are the obvious example, fungi and viruses also fit into the category. We are only able to observe these organisms through a microscope.

Microbes congregate in groups, called microbiomes, on every surface imaginable. They are found on the inside of the body, on the outside of the body, on everything we use, and on and inside all forms of nature. They are even found in the atmosphere. Think that counter top is clean and critter free? Think again.

But before you reach for the cleaning spray, understand that microbes are an essential part of life. In terms of human health, without a healthy balance of microbes inside of the body, we develop diseases. In nature, imbalances in microbial life can create environments such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, or can alter crop growth productivity.

The Initiative

“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.” – White House Press Release

The United States government wants to advance research of microbiomes to a new level. And it’s goals are threefold; to support interdisciplinary research, to develop platform technologies, and to expand the microbiome workforce.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been raised for this initiative, including from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Michigan, and The BioCollective, LLC, amongst many others. Generous contributions from these institutions have helped the White House to continue the progress that has already been made in microbiome research.

NASA is keenly invested in microbial research as well, because, you guessed it, microbes are in space! Learn more about microbes in space from this Jet Propulsion Laboratory study in California.

Resources for Educators:

  1. White House OSTP Full Press Release
  2. Popular Science Article on Program
  3. University of Utah Genetics Science Learning Center – What are Microbes?