The use of microorganisms to deliver more sustainable processes in the humanised world is in its infancy – but the practice will soon deliver a paradigm shift in plant, animal, human and planetary health. In the last two decades, our understanding of microorganisms that shape our world has grown dramatically. We now know that more than a trillion species exist, performing crucial roles in the Earth’s major cycles, ecosystem functioning, plant, animal and human health. This number is five orders of magnitude greater than was believed at the turn of the Century.
Their influence is all-pervasive, and the implications of this new-found knowledge is revolutionary.
Our entire world revolves around microorganisms (microbiota), such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and archaea. They colonise plants, animals and humans and they exist in the atmosphere all around us, inside and out.
Microbiotas affect the development and function of essentially all organ systems, dictating the health of all living things on the planet. They contribute to adaptation and evolution and protect against pathogens and toxins.
The composition of microbiota is influenced by a wide range of external and internal factors, and that, in turn, influences host health through modulation of interrelated physiological systems.
There are three core types of microorganisms that exist: commensal, which feed on the internal or external host environment but do not establish close association; symbiotic, which form a close and long-term biological interaction that can be beneficial or parasitic; and pathogenic, which are germs that can produce disease.
In total,the estimated number of microbial cells on Earth hovers around a nonillion (1030), exceeding by some estimates the number of stars in the universe.
The human body is host to trillions of microbiota, present in every major organ system, and we are also transiently exposed to countless others all around us. The same is true of animals. Some are useful, aiding digestion and immunity, while others are harmful, causing disease and even influencing our moods.
Plants and soils have similar relationships, with a single gram of agricultural soil containing 10,000 species. These microbiota help manage our environment, aiding CO2 uptake, breaking down organics into useful carbon and replenishing soil nutrients. Creating imbalance can have serious effects.
Microbiotas affect the development and functioning of all organ systems. They contribute to adaptation and evolution and protect against pathogenic microorganisms and toxins.
Their composition can be affected by genetics, lifestyle, diet, the use of antibiotics and other drugs and the external environment. This, in turn, influences host health through modulation of interrelated physiological systems. Importantly, parental microbiotas have impacts on the health of future generations.
Environmental microbial ecosystems can affect the microbiota and, in turn, the health of the host organisms. There are indications that internal microbial diversity can promote good health.
Therefore, overlapping compositions, and interconnected roles of microbes in human, animal and plant health should be considered within the broader context of terrestrial and aquatic microbial ecosystems that are challenged by the human lifestyle and by agricultural and industrial activities.
Naturally occurring processes undertaken by bacterial microbiota can be extremely beneficial when implemented to solve human-influenced problems, and that is what the work of ABS is all about.
The health of any internal and external microbiotic ecosystem is intimately linked, and our use of toxic chemicals favours pathogens that deliver detrimental impact on our own health. Conversely, the use of natural microbiotic solutions within our day-do-day lives can help to detoxify of our planetary environment and must become a foundation principle of a ‘One Health’ worldview.
Microbes make up more than 60% of the world’s living matter and 99.999% are yet to be discovered. Even these figures may be conservative.
In the spirit of an expanding version of ‘one health’ that includes environmental health and its relation to human cultures and habits (ecohealth), we are leading the call for the lifestyle-microbiota-human health nexus to be taken into account in societal decision making’
These new insights into the functioning of microbiotas and the opportunities this is creating for novel applications and behaviours supporting better health and wellbeing are groundbreaking.
We are actively working to build this understanding globally, encouraging health to be addressed in a holistic way, including host-microbiota interactions and how this approach can help challenge non-communicable diseases.
We encourage policy makers to support education of the public and concerned professionals, and socio-psychologists to help integrate this societal change of paradigm not only into understanding, but into practice.