What is the microbiome and how does this impact on biofilms?
There has been a huge explosion of interest and publications in the role of microbiome, which is defined as all of the genetic material within the collection of microorganisms in a specific niche, such as the human gut or the skin. Importantly, getting data on the composition of the microbiome in this niche doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about how these organisms live, which are the key players or even if they are alive! Understandably, the impact of the human microbiome on health and wellbeing is only at the beginning of being understood, despite the huge ongoing investment (for example in the USA the National Institutes of Health in 2007 only awarded 25m$ of funds to human microbiome research and by 2016 this was nearer $250m). In many settings there is much interest in exploring why, when and how this complex population becomes disturbed, from normal to become “dysbiotic”, with a view not only to managing or influencing its impact on human health but also in diverse areas such as the natural and built environments and food production.
This information has also led to the emergence of business concepts and ideas, which have translated out of the research base. For example, it is estimated that in the last 5 years microbiome therapeutics and diagnostics companies have attracted a total of €4bn in investments. National economies are also beginning to look at the best way to organise to create societal value from the research they are investing in within universities and institutes. With this in mind, in the UK there is a recognition of the need to coordinate thinking and research, and the 2017 Unlocking the Microbiome report from the Microbiology Society provides a good overview of the status. In March this year BBSRC held a workshop focussed on the UK’s microbiome capability and the report from this is anticipated soon. This is likely to be influential in guiding future research investment.
In parallel, via the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) network, the government’s business innovation agency, Innovate UK has set up the Microbiome Special Interest Group (SIG) which aims to accelerate the commercialisation of microbiome-based products and services in the UK and create a vibrant community by connecting industry and academia. Their goals are to develop a proactive, self-sustaining microbiome community, to raise the visibility of the world leading microbiome science and enable its translation for the benefit of the UK academic institutions, start-ups, SMEs and larger companies and to society at large. This group has formed on the emergence of a feeling amongst practitioners in both academia and industry in this field that the UK hasn’t yet truly capitalised on the excellent research and science knowledge base it has built. There is a collective view we need a “roadmap” and strategy as a nation to try to close this gap. I strongly recommend you register interest with this group if this aim seems to align with your own. Charles Vander Broek, Knowledge Transfer Manager Agrifood at KTN says,
“Within the microbiome space, personal care is one area where the UK has an opportunity to be a world leader. The UK has an excellent science and technology base in relevant areas such as microbiology, immunology, bioinformatics, in vitro models, multi-omics, fermentation and formulation. The UK also has the translational capability and industrial capacity to bring this research to the consumer, with a number of world leading brands manufacturing and undertaking R&D within the country. Through the KTN Microbiome SIG’s landscape map and strategy, we aim to raise awareness of the ongoing activity in the microbiome space in the UK including personal care and highlight opportunities and challenges that exist now and in the future”.
So, how does all of this impact on biofilms and NBIC?
It’s key to recall that biofilms are by definition communities of microorganisms that stick to each other and to surfaces, so it is really how at least some of the microbiome lives and their way of being. Understanding this is intimately associated with taking the understanding of the microbiome to the next step, i.e. it begins to give meaning to what its impact might be. So, these are really two sides of the same coin and need to be viewed as such.
Our Mission at NBIC is the harnessing of the UK’s Academic and industrial strengths in biofilms and this requires us to fully understand the microbiome of those human and natural environments and niches our companies and researchers are interested in exploring.
Dr Mark Richardson, NBIC CEO