Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, & Evolution
Built environments are the structures that humans create to shelter from the outdoors and provide spaces for living, working, playing, and getting places. Along with humans, pets, pests, and house plants, built environments house a range of microbes. Preliminary studies indicate that indoor spaces have distinct microbial communities, influenced by building materials, ventilation and airflow, moisture, and human and animal activity. The Academy convened a colloquium on September 9, 2015 to examine the role of complex microbial ecosystems found in built environments, including their effects on building chemistry and human health. Studying the microbiology of built environments can change the ways we design, build, operate, occupy, and clean our indoor spaces.
"How Microbes can Help Feed the World" looks in depth at the intimate relationship between microbes and agriculture including why plants need microbes, what types of microbes they need, how they interact and the scientific challenges posed by the current state of knowledge. It then makes a series of recommendations, including greater investment in research, the taking on of one or more grand challenges such as characterization of the complete microbiome of one important crop plant, and the establishment of a formal process for moving scientific discoveries from the lab to the field.
In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to Viruses Throughout Life & Time: Friends, Foes, Change Agents. Viruses Throughout Life & Time: Friends, Foes, Change Agents is based on the deliberation of a group of scientific experts who gathered for two days in San Francisco, CA in July 2013 to answer a series of questions regarding the variety of roles that viruses play in the natural world.
The human microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes living in and on the human body, is not random, and scientists believe that it plays a role in many basic life processes. As science continues to explore and better understand the identities and activities of the microbial species comprising the human microbiome, microbiologists hope to draw connections between microbiome composition, host genetics, and human health. FAQ: Human Microbiome addresses this growing area of research.
Where does the virus come from? How is it spread? Can we predict when and where outbreaks will occur? What factors determine how sick a person will become if they are infected with West Nile virus?
To help answer the many questions people have about this multi-faceted virus, the American Academy of Microbiology has issued a new report entitled FAQ: West Nile Virus. The Academy convened twenty-two of the world’s leading experts on West Nile virus in March, 2013 to consider and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about West Nile virus. The resultant report provides non-technical, science-based answers to questions that people may have about the virus.
Where do new influenza viruses come from? How are they different from the influenza viruses that circulate every year? Why is vaccination so important? To help answer the many questions people have about this multi-faceted virus, the American Academy of Microbiology has issued a new report entitled FAQ: Influenza. The Academy convened twelve of the world’s leading experts on influenza in October, 2012 to consider and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about influenza. The resultant report provides non-technical, science-based answers to questions that people may have about the virus.
Concerned about antibiotic resistance? What if an insect pest becomes desensitized to the protective chemicals applied to crops? All kinds of living organisms have evolved mechanisms of resistance against the chemicals designed to control them – from bacteria, viruses, cancer cells to weeds. In the Academy of Microbiology’s newest, free report, explore the Darwinian principles underlying the evolution of resistance in these different biological communities and learn how experts in these fields have developed potentially discipline-spanning strategies of combatting them.
Non-microbiologists may assume that the goal of water utilities should be the elimination of all microbes from our drinking water. But the water we drink has never been sterile; perfectly safe water contains millions of non-pathogenic microbes in every glassful. Like every other human built environment, the entire water distribution system — every reservoir, every well, every pipe, and every faucet — is home to hundreds or thousands of species of bacteria, algae, invertebrates, and viruses, most of which are completely harmless to humans. In April, 2012, the American Academy of Microbiology convened a colloquium to assess what is known about the microbial inhabitants of the water distribution system and to propose goals for advancing our understanding of these communities in order to enhance the safety of our drinking water and the resilience of our water infrastructure.
Microbes are critical players in every geochemical cycle relevant to climate including carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and others. The sum total of microbial activity is enormous, but the net effect of microbial activities on the concentration of carbon dioxide and other climate-relevant gases is currently not known. In February of 2011, the American Academy of Microbiology convened a colloquium to discuss how to integrate microbiological processes and climate models. Based on that colloquium, this report examines our current understanding of how microbes influence climate and identifies key biogeochemical processes, heavily influenced by microbes, which offer attractive starting points to begin collaborations between the two fields. The report also recommends changes to data collection and accessibility, improved incentives for interdisciplinary collaborations, and the development of new technologies as important steps. While the challenge of integrating microbes into climate models is great, one thing is certain, microbes are a force in climate change that cannot be ignored.
It has been over 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s landmark book based on his observations of animals in the Galapagos Islands. The two core principles he described in his work, descent with modification and natural selection, have helped us understand life’s tremendous diversity. But how do these same principles pertain to the microbial world that Darwin could not see? In 2009 the American Academy of Microbiology convened a colloquium in the Galapagos Islands to address this question. Based on that colloquium, this report summarizes the unique challenges posed by microbes, like vast evolutionary time scale, genetic promiscuity and rapid division, which complicate understanding microbial evolution. It also identifies areas of research and education where more information is needed to overcome these challenges. The report concludes that due to the power of microbes as model systems, tools in biotechnology, and drivers in biogeochemical and climate cycles, understanding microbial evolution may give us more than just the ability to understand microbial diversity; it will help understand the world around us.