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White House Begins New National Microbiome Initiative To Understand Benefits Of Bacteria

14 May 2016, 8:34 am EDT By Catherine Cabral-Isabedra Tech Times
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In an attempt to understand the riddles of science, the White House will now begin a National Microbiome Initiative, a program that aims to unify all microbe culture research.

In October 2015, more than 40 scientists from different scientific backgrounds came together and proposed the creation of a Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium (UMIC). The initiative would bring together cutting-edge research and discoveries that would benefit health care, the environment and even create renewable energy.

"Microbes are everywhere," said Pamela Silver, a Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering researcher. "Therefore understanding microbiomes, whther they be the ones that live in and on our bodies or the ones in the environment, is essential to understanding life."

The White House announced the initiative on May 13 to jumpstart microbe research that would encompass all those that are found in animals, air, plants, soil and water. The government is hoping that gaining more information would give insight into how to fight disease, increase food production, and fight climate change.

The National Microbiome Initiative (PDF) will work with other organizations interested in the research, including University of Michigan and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), One Codex, The BioCollective, the University of California, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program will have a total of $521 million in funding, with $121 million from the federal government and $400 million funding from private organizations.

While most people think that bacteria cause decay and death, there exists a huge trove of good microbes that are essential to human existence. White House Office of Science and Technology associate director for science Jo Handelsman explained that life on land became possible because ancient ocean-dwelling microbes released oxygen into the atmosphere.

Handelsman explained that humans need bacteria to survive.

"We wouldn't be here without these bacteria," said Handelsman. "Our health, our behavior and even our longevity are all affected by these bacteria."

Alterations in human microbiomes cause diseases, including allergies, asthma, autism, diabetes, and even obesity, said Microbiology Professor Martin Blaser, who also serves as director of the New York University Langone Medical Center's Human Microbiome Program. When people take antibiotics to cure diseases, good bacteria is also eliminated along with the bad bacteria.

Scientists still need to learn from these microbiomes.

A Tech Times' report has stated about 99.999 percent of the 1 trillion microbial species in the world are yet to be discovered.

With the program, the scientists are hoping to map the microbes, alter them, and identify how it can help address some of the maladies that affect human existence.

Some experts believe that understanding microbiomes could also help solve crimes. Forensic scientists can use the microbial trail left by people as they go to places, much like how detectives solve crime using DNA and fingerprints left behind by criminals.

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