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Scientists call for new tools to explore the world’s microbiomes

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In October, an interdisciplinary group of scientists proposed forming a Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI) to explore the world of microorganisms that are central to life on Earth and yet largely remain a mystery. An article in the journal ACS Nano describes the tools scientists will need to understand how microbes interact with each other and with us.

Microbes live just about everywhere: in the oceans, in the soil, in the atmosphere, in forests and in and on our bodies. Research has demonstrated that their influence ranges widely and profoundly, from affecting human health to the climate. But scientists don't have the necessary tools to characterize communities of microbes, called microbiomes, and how they function. Rob Knight, Jeff F. Miller, Paul S. Weiss and colleagues detail what these technological needs are.

The researchers are seeking the development of advanced tools in bioinformatics, high-resolution imaging, and the sequencing of microbial macromolecules and metabolites. They say that such technology would enable scientists to gain a deeper understanding of microbiomes. Armed with new knowledge, they could then tackle related medical and other challenges with greater agility than what is possible today.

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The authors acknowledge funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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