The White House is to launch its National Microbiome Initiative, a new project aimed at studying the microscopic organisms living in the environment as well as in human bodies. The initiative, worth $121 million, is expected to shed light on the impact of the microscopic organisms on our health, the environment as well as on the overall global climate.
The Obama administration has already invested almost one billion dollars in microbiome research over the period 2012-2014. On top of the amount supported by federal funds, the new research will also benefit from major financial assistance from private groups, which pledged to contribute with $400 million. The participating organizations include NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Microbiomes are communities of microorganisms that live on our skin, in our gut, and everywhere around us in animals, plants, the soil, and the oceans. They affect life on earth at such a profound level that, when becoming dysfunctional, they become associated with human diseases as well as with ecological disruptions and decreased agricultural productivity. Despite its high importance for life on earth, the field of microbiome research still suffers from gaps of knowledge. The White House initiative aims to address that and also encourage researchers to conduct comparative studies of microorganisms across several ecosystems.
The research will look into how fungi, bacteria and microbes work and study their influence on our and our planet’s lives. It is expected to will provide new information on how the microbes affect our health, causing allergies or even more serious diseases, such as asthma and even diabetes. But the initiative has an even wider scope: it will study the way microorganisms influence the environment, for example, the way marine ecosystems respond to an oil spill, and possibly provide clues on how they impact global climate.
The National Microbiome Initiative is expected to have a major impact on the field of microbiome research, Jo Handelsman, associate director for Science and Technology at the White House estimates. This view is also supported by Martin Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Project at the New York University, who believes that the new initiative of the Obama administration can lead to the emergence of a new field of study that can influence the lives of future generations.
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