White House kickstarts new US microbiome initiative

13 May 2016

In a bid to aid an area of science “lacking” in tools, resources and interest, a US National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) has been created – healthcare, food production and environmental restoration are areas hoped to benefit.

“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.”

That’s the justification that h the White House is using to create the NMI, which will target three key goals: support interdisciplinary research, develop platform technologies, and expand the microbiome workforce.

How is it going to do this? Spend, of course. $121m is being set aside immediately to pour into “interdisciplinary, multi-ecosystem research and tools development”, with a further $400m coming in from backers including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Microbiome research has gone through a popularity surge globally, with innovative research popping up all over the place. For example, last month, Cork researchers discovered a link between bacteria in the gut and neurological activity, a world first that opens the door for further strategies to defeat illnesses like multiple sclerosis.

Calling this US initiative a “milestone” for this area of science, Jo Handelsman of the White House’s science and technology office says the planet can expect “considerable benefits”.

“Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that while microbes may be small, their impacts are mighty!”

The targeted funding already in place includes:

  • $100m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes.
  • $10m from charity JDRF to look at type 1 diabetes.
  • $12m from the University of California to enable technology developers to connect with end users
  • $3.5m from the University of Michigan to provide new research experiences for undergraduate students.

Main White House image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic