Life on Earth depends on microbes

Microorganisms are crucial for plant growth and for soil productivity. They recycle much of our waste and treat our wastewater, produce a large part of the oxygen we breathe, and are central to the global cycling of nutrients and other elements. Microorganisms are present in essentially all environments, from high elevations to great depths, from lush rainforests to arid deserts. The community of microorganisms living in a particular environment or host is called microbiome. Microbiomes are an integral part of plants and animals and are pivotal for their health.

Human societies rely on microorganisms for food processing and preservation, and our biotechnology thrives from exploiting microbial catalytic capacities. Microbes are also essential for producing chemicals for manufacturing and synthesis (e.g., solvents, antimicrobials, pharmaceuticals, pigments, fragrances and vitamins) and managing societies’ waste streams. Although microorganisms are essential for life, some can also be devastating, imperilling our well-being and health, and that of our crops and livestock.

Mission of NCCR Microbiomes

The ambition of the NCCR Microbiomes is to leap to a new level of understanding that enables rational manipulation of microbiomes for health, environmental and engineering applications. The NCCR Microbiomes aims to revolutionize microbiome science by eschewing host- or environment-specific characteristics and seeking a system-level understanding of microbiome functioning.

The project integrates computational and bioinformatics approaches with experimental and medical microbiology, and focuses on synthetic and engineering applications. This will generate opportunities to harness the enormous potential of microbiomes, as well as to mitigate the deleterious impact of the loss of their functioning. The NCCR Microbiomes, through the integration of diverse systems, has the promise to impact several areas of critical importance: human and animal health, nutrition, plant productivity, environmental health, biotechnology, and big data management.

The NCCR Microbiomes will develop bioinformatic and computational tools, pipelines, models and data storage standards (for example, to handle personalized microbiome data). It will train a new generation of talented scientists in integrative computational tools. This will be beneficial for the general investment and advancement of computational and data mining strategies in Switzerland.