National Microbiome Initiative — What Are Microbiomes And How Do They Affect Our Health?

The headlines are rife with news of the National Microbiome Initiative program launched by the White House this week. The scientific terminology of the Microbiome Initiative study leaves many wondering what exactly are microbiomes, and how will the study of microbiomes benefit the lives of the general public.

The Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary defines the microbiome as “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body”, and also “the collective genomes of microorganisms inhabiting a particular environment and especially the human body.”

Pamela Silver, researcher for Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, details the importance of studying the benefits of microbiomes.

“Microbes are everywhere. Therefore understanding microbiomes, whether they be the ones that live in and on our bodies or the ones in the environment, is essential to understanding life.”

In this informational video, Dr. Hibberd attempts to explain the human microbiome in a simplified manner.

A report by Tech Times notes that more than three dozen scientists unified in October of last year to pool their collective resources and target the world of microbiomes. The National Microbiome Initiative will research microbes not only found in humans, animals, and plants, but also those found in the soil, air, and water. The purpose of this research is to increase knowledge about fighting disease and increasing food supply.

Scientists have found that, along with humans, the microbiome also inhabits animals as well as plants. The National Microbiome Initiative will study microbes, specifically the connection between microbiomes and how they benefit the host they inhabit.

According to Pulse Headlines, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, at the White House states the following about the National Microbiome Initiative.

“[The National Microbiome Initiative] will increase the research attempts to understand the function of microorganisms that live on or in all living species and are necessary to the well-being of living creatures and ecosystems.”

A related report by the Inquisitr looks at the increase in autoimmune diseases in the United States in recent years. Conditions such as type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and asthma in children are on the rise in this country, where hygiene is a high priority. In contrast, children in developing countries are not bothered by these types of illnesses.

Are we too clean in America? The theory is that our obsession with cleanliness disrupts the natural order of the microbiomes. Finnish doctor Mikael Knip believes this is the cause for the increase in certain types of disease.

“The immune system is programmed within the first two years of life. With less early infection, the immune system has too little to do, so it starts looking for other targets.”

Tech Times further reports that other organizations are eager to join the National Microbiome Initiative to learn more about microbes. These organizations include, but are not limited to, the University of California, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the University of Michigan, One Codex, and the BioCollective.

Jo Handelsman, associate director for science of the White House Office of Science and Technology, stresses how important microbiomes are for the survival of life. “We wouldn’t be here without these bacteria. Our health, our behavior and even our longevity are all affected by these bacteria.”

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