Understanding microbiomes is one of the next big scientific frontiers: this understanding will provide meaningful individual and public health solutions, impact on climate change and help transform our food systems. However, research into microbiomes beyond human health is currently limited. To that end, the European Commission has decided to fund five projects on the food systems microbiome that focus on understanding research, policy and regulatory needs, as well as driving microbiome-based innovations within food production.
These projects are MicrobiomeSupport, MASTER, CIRCLES, HoloFood and SIMBA and they are working together to deliver a greater impact. Together we cover a number of food environments where microbiomes significantly impact on the health effects, safety and sustainability of the food we eat; how microbiome knowledge can be applied practically in different farming and production processes is being explored. Concurrently, our projects are:
- raising awareness of the importance of the microbiome in the food system in the hope to improve public acceptance of potential microbiome innovations;
- preparing roadmaps for infrastructure and funding needs to improve microbiome research in general;
- informing on policy and regulatory hurdles that microbiome innovations may encounter on the way to the market; and
- ensuring the engagement of a wide stakeholder network to deliver win-win-win situations for people, planet and profit.
All five projects have joined efforts and created the Microbiomes4Life project cluster. With joint communication material and the use of the hashtag #Microbiomes4Life in social media, we want to further raise awareness of the importance of microbiomes in the food system.
MicrobiomeSupport Towards a sustainable and circular, microbiome-based bioeconomy
MicrobiomeSupport is a Coordination & Support Action (CSA) project which is funded under the Horizon 2020 initiative (grant number 818116), a research and innovation programme by the EU. The project started back in November 2018 and is expected to finish in October 2022.
Microbiome research has gained vast interest and recognition in the last decade, yet the research behind it is currently limited and fragmented, with contradictory findings, unaligned research and legislation that focuses on individual microbes rather than communities such as those found in microbiomes.
For this reason, the MicrobiomeSupport project aims to:
- Build a basis for international action in joint research programmes – the project will support the need for updated research & innovation (policy) agendas to allow for innovative microbiome applications, to improve the safety and sustainability of our future EU food production systems.
- Reinforce collaboration within international networks such as the International Bioeconomy Forum (IBF) to optimise funding of microbiome research both in Europe and worldwide.
- Find alignment on research methods, infrastructure and standards to allow for comparison of results between individual projects, and to ultimately make microbiome research outcomes more meaningful and practical for real life applications.
- Educate the wider public on the potential of microbiomes as well as maintain dialogue between stakeholders on the topic, through the use of multiple communication efforts.
With great effort from over 25 EU and international partners, many of the aims and objectives of the project have already been achieved!
A major piece of work for MicrobiomeSupport was to establish international standards around microbiome research. The project has already taken a huge leap forward in this objective, having aligned on an updated common and universal definition of the word “microbiome”, as well as addressed the importance of a coordinated approach to meet microbiome research needs, such as the best infrastructure, standards and practices, and ensuring data compatibility and consistent protocols, especially in biobanks. A number of scientific publications have been produced so far during the project; you can read them here!
Are you interested in MicrobiomeSupport?
You can keep up with all the latest news of the project via its newsletter, the news section of the website as well as its Twitter account! And don’t forget to check out our resource section, where you can find all the infographics, videos, factsheets and many more fun and engaging materials!
CIRCLES Unlocking the potential of microbiomes for sustainable food production
Access to safe, nutritious, high quality and affordable food is a basic necessity, that currently comes with many economic and environmental problems. With our global population increasing, how will we provide, sustain and improve the provision of healthy foods in a sustainable and fair fashion?
Controlling mIcRobiomes CircuLations for bEtter food Systems (CIRCLES; grant number 818290) is an EU-funded project under the Horizon 2020 research framework which runs from November 2018 to October 2024. In total, 30 European organisations have joined the effort to find solutions for the challenges that our food systems face, such as a growing population, soil erosion, water shortages and rising temperatures. How can this be done? CIRCLES has identified natural microbiomes as key players with incredible potential in the making of more sustainable, resilient, competitive, diverse, responsible and inclusive food systems.
To achieve a representative sample of the whole food system, CIRCLES expert partners and institutions are exploring microbiome interactions and circulations across six food chains:
- Atlantic salmon (farmed and wild)
- Seabream (farmed and wild)
By gaining knowledge on the microbiomes found on a variety of food systems, CIRCLES is developing and implementing smart microbiome modulators (SMMs) and is applying them in integrative circular actions in smart microbiome food systems (SMFSs). By using evidence-based approaches to exploit strategic microbiome functionalities, SMFSs will be able to be more productive, safe, sustainable and resilient, creating more responsible, secure and transparent future EU food systems. CIRCLES is also creating smart microbiome food products from these SMFSs, which take into account different needs such as food quality, sustainability and human health. In short, CIRCLES provides the scientific knowledge to exploit natural microbiomes for the sustainable production of high quality and healthy food.
During the project, European citizens and workers in these food chains are informed and engaged, with a view to better understand the interlink between microbiomes, sustainable food and environment. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic the research aspect of the project had to slow down. However, some incredible efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to engage with the wider public were put in place, creating some amazing resources, such as videos by our researchers, blogposts on various microbiome-related topics and even some scientific publications. Check out our resources section to find out more!
Want to find out more about how microbiomes can help improve our food systems? Find the CIRCLES project on Twitter @SciFoodHealth with the hashtag #CIRCLESEU and on Instagram @microbesforlife or check out our website.
HoloFood Hologenomics for sustainable food production
Food sustainability is a global concern for both consumers and food production companies. There are many unknowns related to optimising food production, in particular with regards to using natural food additives such as pre- and probiotics to encourage growth and well-being of farmed animals. However, there is still much to be discovered about the impact of such additives on the animal microbiome, and on the animal itself. Unless a more holistic approach is taken, whereby both the host animal and their respective microbiome is examined together in their response to their diet, attempts to improve feed additives may never reach their full potential.
To address this issue, HoloFood, an EU-funded Horizon 2020 Innovation Action (grant number 817729) showcases a holistic approach that will improve the efficiency of food production systems, by attempting to decipher the molecular and physiological processes triggered by feed additives across animals with different genetic background and raised under different controlled environments. The HoloFood project (Hologenomics for sustainable food solutions) runs from 2019-2022.
HoloFood concentrates its efforts on optimizing two main food systems that have high importance within worldwide food economy: chicken and salmon. HoloFood will characterise not only the animals’ associated microbiomes’ genomes, transcriptomes and metabolomes but will also characterise how the microbiome interacts with animals’ genomes and transcriptomes in relation to key performance indices and animal welfare issues. This ‘holo-omic solution’ will then be piloted in commercial production environments in poultry and aquaculture. The knowledge generated will be used by our industrial partners Chr. Hansen A/S and Lerøy Seafood Group, to optimize food additive administration strategies of already implemented products, by tailoring them to the genetic background and developmental stage of the animals, as well as production environment. This will improve the quantity, quality and safety of the produced food, as well as increase the sustainability of food production and animal welfare. HoloFood will also serve to raise awareness about the importance of microbiomes in food production, and to establish bridges between companies and academia to foster science-based strategies. HoloFood is coordinated by the University of Copenhagen. The innovation action gathers 11 academic and industrial partners from six European countries (Denmark, Norway, Germany, UK, Spain and Poland), forming a dynamic interdisciplinary group of fundamental researchers, applied scientists and industry partners with a track record of bridging basic science to applications in the food industry.
To find out more about the project check out our explainer video here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSQLffZj-AY
MASTER Microbiome Applications for Sustainable food systems through Technologies and EnteRprise
Micro-organisms are found in every ecological niche explored and their existence facilitates ours! We can discover the make-up and function of many microbial communities (microbiomes) using DNA sequencing technologies. Scientists within the MASTER project are using high throughput sequencing technologies to map microbiomes across a range of food and non-food environments. MASTER takes a global approach to the development of microbiome products, foods/feeds, services or processes with high commercial potential, to improve the quantity, quality and safety of food. Knowledge generated within MASTER will improve plant, soil, animal and human health and reduce the demand for traditional insecticides, fertilizers and antibiotics.
MASTER is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 Innovation Action project (grant number 818368) that got underway in 2019, bringing together 30 partners from 14 European countries. In this third year of the project, we face a much different world than when we started our journey on MASTER. However, despite the challenges and impacts of COVID-19, we have collected ~1800 samples from >110 food production industries across Europe. In addition, research on MASTER spans microbiomes in soil and crops, microbiomes in aquaculture and the marine environment, rumen microbiomes and human microbiomes. During the project, we will harness this microbiome knowledge to enhance the health, sustainability and resilience of fish, plants, soil, animals and humans, improve professional skills and competencies, and support the creation of jobs in the food sector and bio-economy.
The specific objectives of the MASTER project are to:
- Develop microbiome-based solutions to improve fodder crop production and to increase the use of sustainable feeds in the fishing industry.
- Use microbiome-based diagnostics in real time in these industries for pathogen detection and to improve production.
- Alter the rumen microbiome resulting in increased feed efficiency and reduced methane emissions.
- Develop technologies to monitor rumen microbiome markers and to predict ruminant characteristics.
- Optimize fermented food microbes and processes to add to the value and health-promoting properties of selected substrates, in particular those from waste streams.
- Support the design of novel functional foods by studying the relationship between foods and the human gut microbiome.
- Assess means of testing the impact of food ingredients on the gut microbiome, with a view to improving human health.
- Map the microbiomes of food-producing facilities and to validate technologies and software tools for microbiome analysis and pathogen detection in foods.
- Develop databases, tools and resources for the food-chain industry to be use beyond the end of the project.
- Promote understanding and interest in microbiome-related applications for the food industry, through communication towards and engagement of end-users.
- Bring to market new and cost-effective applications to assist at different stages and processes throughout the food chain.