Mainstreaming Microbes across Biomes

June 24th, 2020

From kombucha to faecal transplants, public interest in the human microbiome has flourished. But awareness of environmental microbiome has not. From marine depths to aerial environments, microbiomes are vitally important.

A group of scientists, including one of our Environomics FSP early career researchers, Eric Raes, have authored a review of microbial science to highlight the value of environmental microbiome science by describing current and potential future applications.

Environmental microbiome research has an extraordinary range of applications (Figure 1), including early examples of using microbes to monitor the safety of food and water supplies, still in use today.

The applications of microbiome science span all environments and all facets of society. This figure depicts some current and possible future applications for public health, biosecurity, industry, and the environment. Potential future applications can best be realized with greater cross talk among scientific fields.

More recently, applications in areas such as agriculture, biosecurity, environmental impact assessment, and ecological restoration have vastly expanded, boosted by developments in high-throughput DNA sequencing that allow us to rapidly characterize microbial communities.

In a recently published article, Invisible ID: using microbes to ‘fingerprint’ ocean health, Dr Andrew Bissett, team leader of the Environmental Genomics team, discussed the value of tracking microbes in marine environments.

“Changes to the DNA sequences shows how microbes are responding to changes in the marine environment. This could be from the influence of climate change, ocean temperature, metals or pollution,” Dr Bissett said.

Future applications of environmental microbiome research are certain to expand with developments in microbiome engineering—that is, actively altering microbial communities to achieve desired outcomes.

However, unless we know how microbes are shared across individuals, species, and ecosystems and how environmental and human microbiomes interact, we cannot best apply microbiome science for human and ecological benefit, nor can we know the potential repercussions of such microbiome manipulations.

Read the full journal article here.