10 May 2024

Phase II of the NCCR Microbiomes approved

We are thrilled to announce that the Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation has approved the continuation of the NCCR Microbiomes in Phase II under shared leadership of the University of Lausanne and ETH Zurich. The second phase of the NCCR Microbiomes will extend from 1 July 2024 to 30 June 2028. We are extremely grateful for the support by the SNSF and the trust of our evaluators.

During Phase I, the NCCR has successfully set up its main lines of collaborative research within and across six work packages. The consortium has developed and tested new approaches for producing and applying standardized microbiomes across hosts and environments. Standardized microbiomes serve as excellent test beds for conceptual questions on microbiome assembly and functioning. We have initially performed microbiome interventions by adding or removing single functionalities or focal strains. This N+1/N–1 approach (From microbiome composition to functional engineering, one step at a time, Burz et al., 2023), lays a conceptual and engineering foundation for activities planned in Phase II.

Over the next four years, the NCCR Microbiomes will continue to focus on the dynamics of microbiome assembly and identify strategies to differentiate disturbed (or dysbiosed) from healthy microbiomes. To this end, we will launch several Flagship projects with common project designs and research questions across groups and work packages. In addition to experimental work, we will develop models and test predicted behaviours of complex microbiomes in the presence or absence of their host.

We expect the Flagship research to lead to major advances in mechanistic and molecular knowledge of microbiome assembly rules and concepts, enabling complex microbiome intervention goals. These could involve multiple strains, the building and engrafting of functional guilds, or the reconstruction of synthetic microbiomes with functional characteristics from individual known strains.

Parallel to these research axes, Phase II projects will continue to advance microbiome diagnostics methods and interventional research, focusing on human and animal health, environmental carbon and nutrient cycles in the light of greenhouse gases, and soil health and plant growth. To support the applied focus, the NCCR will establish partnerships with relevant institutions and industries to ensure realistic developments that can be widely adopted.

We are excited to embark in this new phase and look forward to many new discoveries.