American Society for Microbiology Members Propose Initiative to Harness Earth’s Microbiomes

Washington, DC - October 28, 2015 - An article published in Science on October 28th steered by key ASM members highlights the need for an interdisciplinary initiative that would focus on better understanding microbial interactions that could allow for progress in the fields of agriculture, health and energy, to name a few. Led by corresponding author Jeffery F. Miller, Ph.D., Past President, ASM, the article proposes the launch of a Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI).

This initiative would be a collaboration between the scientific community, public, and private sectors to study global microbiome processes. These partnerships would allow the development of new technologies that could accelerate basic discoveries regarding microbiome functions, the capabilities of the earth’s microbial ecosystems, and translate them to practical applications.  Co-authored by over forty scientists from varying scientific fields, the UMI proposal will lead to a fundamental shift in the way microbiome research is conducted.  Instead of focusing on census-taking and descriptive studies driven by genomic techniques, the emphasis will move to experiments which establish causal relationships.

Both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and The Kavli Foundation of Oxnard, California individually organized meetings that gathered scientists to exchange ideas that were critical to developing the vision of the initiative.

Even though this would be a U.S. initiative, the authors have called for a global response that could lead to large-scale international collaborations that would allow for standards to be set for microbiome research.

A complementary article published in Nature, led by Nicole Dubilier, Ph.D., Director, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany, supports the UMI and agrees that a global effort would be necessary. The article calls for an International Microbiome Initiative (IMI) supported by funding agencies and foundations around the world, in addition to the UMI. The authors, including Liping Zhao, Ph.D., Professor of microbiology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China and Margaret McFall-Ngai, Ph.D., Director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who is also a co-author on the Science article and can serve as a liaison, believe that this would ensure the sharing of standards across borders and disciplines, and bring consistency internationally. All three authors are Fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group within ASM.

ASM has always urged the importance of microbiome research and plans to lead efforts to identify gaps in the research, expanding beyond identification of the species of microorganisms present in specific environments to the roles and functions these microorganisms play in specific niches and communities.

To interview the authors of the Science or Nature article, please contact the ASM Media Office.

The Science article can be read online here:


The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.



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