Enterococcus bacteriumThe bacterium, Enterococcus faecalis, is one of many commensal microbes that live in the human gut (Credit: USDA)

Our planet teems with microorganisms such as bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi and algae that have evolved with their hosts over millions of years. The human body alone is estimated to contain as many microbes as human cells—about 40 trillion according to new estimates; and a few grams of soil may contain tens or even hundreds of thousands of microbial species. The complex communities these organisms form are called "microbiomes." Each of them—from the human gut microbiome to the soil's; and from the ocean's to the atmosphere's—is distinct, made up of organisms that are uniquely adapted to that environment. Most of these microbes perform functions that are beneficial, even essential. Of course, sometimes they are harmful. A key goal of microbiome research is to understand the interplay between helpful and harmful microorganisms and the factors that control this delicate balance.

Uniting Diverse Sciences to Tackle the Microbiome

Dental plaque microbiome
Sep 20, 2016

The Kavli Microbiome Ideas Challenge will provide $1 million in grants for innovative tools to investigate how microbes live in complex communities. Three scientists - Tim Donohue, Julie Biteen and Terry Hwa - discuss why it matters.

Spotlight Live: A Microbial Manifesto

Jan 11, 2016

A live webcast on the Unified Microbiome Initiative, in which Janet Jansson, Rob Knight and Jeffrey Miller discuss the potential of nature's microbiomes and how we can tap into it.

Spotlight Live: Learning from Earth’s Smallest Ecosystems

Mar 27, 2015

Two leaders in the field discussed what makes natural biomes so difficult to measure, and how nanoscience may help us unlock their secrets.

Thinking Smaller: How Nanoscience Can Help Us Understand Nature's Many Microbiomes

Feb 12, 2015

More than 50 million different species of single-celled microbes live on Earth, yet we know very little about the communities they inhabit. Two experts in the field, Eoin Brodie and Jack Gilbert, discuss how nanoscience may enable us to better understand their dynamics.

Spotlight Live: Microbes and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Jan 26, 2015

On January 28, astrobiologists Jocelyne DiRuggiero and Christopher McKay discussed how microbiomes - the communities of microbes that inhabit different ecosystems - is driving the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Microbiome & Astrobiology: How to Search for Life on Other Worlds

Jan 25, 2015

Armed with new knowledge about how microbes persist even in the Earth’s harshest environments, astrobiologists are planning the next missions to search for life in our solar system. Their bets are on microbes.

Microbiome and Neuroscience: The Mind-Bending Power of Bacteria

Gut lining
Jan 08, 2015

Our bodies are home to a vast ecosystem of microbes – the microbiome – that has a powerful effect on the brain. Three researchers, Tracy Bale, Christopher Lowry and Sarkis Mazmanian, discuss the emerging gut-microbiome-brain connection and whether microbes may help us treat brain disorders.

Spotlight Live: The Microbiome & the Brain - A New State of Mind

Jan 08, 2015

On January 15, neuroscientist Christopher Lowry discussed the emerging science, that's connecting the microbiome – the community of microbes that inhabit the body – with brain health including whether we can treat common brain disorders through the gut.

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