Within the SIMBA consortium, we are celebrating one year since the project began and as such we have taken some time to look at what has been achieved, what interesting work is ongoing and what people can expect next from the project.
The main aim of the SIMBA project is to get a better understanding of microbiome structure and function, related to marine and terrestrial food chains and to verify the sustainability of microbial innovation in the food system. Focusing primarily on agriculture and aquaculture, SIMBA harnesses complex soil and marine communities for sustainable food production, and ultimately benefitting society.
The SIMBA project brings together 23 partners from across the Europe. SIMBA comprises of leading research groups from the terrestrial, marine, food and human gut microbiomes fields. There are a number of SMEs within the consortium who are key to testing novel techniques and provide “near to market” solutions. This cross-sectoral collaboration ensures that the results of fundamental research will be exploited by the consortium and transferred to the market.
To date the SIMBA consortium has had two face-to-face meetings. First, the kick-off meeting was held in December 2018 in Helsinki, Finland and this provided a great opportunity to discuss the key activities planned for the project and for the partners to get to know one another. The second consortium meeting took place in Wageningen, the Netherlands in June 2019 during which partners reported back on key updates of ongoing activities and the plans for the coming period.
So, over the last year...
The SIMBA consortium has been working hard to address the aims of the project and understand the potential of microbiomes to support a sustainable food system in Europe. We have selected a number of key activities to highlight the diverse actions that are currently ongoing in the project. These are outlined below:
Improving Plant Growth Promoting Microbes field application efficacy and reproducibility
Plant Growth-Promoting Microbes (PGPMs) have the potential to act as an alternative to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As such, they are considered an important strategy for sustainable management in agriculture because they can improve crop productivity and nutritional quality. PGPMs can also support resistance to pathogens, environmental stresses and abiotic stresses. We have been exploring the full potential of PGPMs by optimising the efficacy and reproducibility of field applications. This involved identifying and selecting the most promising PGPMs for the target crops (wheat, maize, potatoes and tomatoes). Carrying out greenhouse trials with the chosen consortia and delivery on the four crops in Italy and Germany to monitor, improve performance and resilience. The results from these greenhouse trials will support the field trials that will start in 2020. It is expected that the results from these experiments will provide an innovative tool for resource efficient crop production in Europe.
Utilising marine microbiomes for sustainable high-quality food production
Marine microbiomes, including micro- and macro-algal have the potential to support sustainable, climate-proof aquaculture and agriculture. As such a key activity of the SIMBA project is to identify key marine and salt marsh microbiomes to support a sustainable food production.
A key ongoing activity to address this is the sampling of salt marshes, which is taking place over the course of one calendar year. Sampling commenced in January 2019 the salt marshes at Schiermonnikoog (in the Netherlands) and takes place fortnightly. This is to understand year development and seasonality of the microbial mats that support and encourage crop vegetation. The results from this will aim to support potential for saline agriculture of crops such as potatoes. The piloting of saline agriculture has been initiated and will progress into 2020. Also, research is being conducted to understand that importance of the microbiome growing on seaweed for their growth and morphological development by growing sea-lettuce in indoor cylinders, outdoor tanks and in former salt evaporation ponds with open exchange with natural seawater, with the final goal to come to a formulation of the optimal microbiome composition for sustainable production.
Using Microbes to produce health and nutritious food and feeds
Within the SIMBA project we also aim is to find and apply microbes that are suitable to convert agricultural residues, food side streams and raw materials to high quality food, feed or energy.
To address this, a study of the different options available to treat maize, potatoes and tomatoes residues in circular economy applications, for energy production, fermentation for feed, utilisation as microbial growth medium and recovery of materials was carried out. Along with that, a genome-based screening and literature survey on lactic acid bacteria and propionibacteria has been carried out for the enhancement of the nutritional value of legumes and cereal based foods by fermentation. As a result, a tool to control for authenticity of microbial consortia to be employed in processing of residues and food is being developed
Examining how sustainable food affects the human gut microbiota
This aspect of the project examines how sustainable food affects the human gut microbiota, with the intention of supporting improvements in the intestinal and systemic health, contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) and colorectal cancer. To date, a clinical intervention whereby part of dietary animal proteins were replaced with plant-derived proteins using a whole-diet approach. Samples of stool and urine from this study have been analysed to see whether phytochemical concentration correlate with gut microbiome and health-measures related to the risk of T2D and colorectal cancer. During autumn 2019, analysis of bile acids in stool and blood samples is ongoing to gain insights into the mechanism whereby a sustainable diet may promote metabolic and gut health. Also, an intervention study is also ongoing whereby 100 obese participants consume 5grams/day of fermented seaweed and canola, or rye cereal placebo. This study will examine the effects of the fermented canola-seaweed production on glucose handling. More about this can be read here.
Aside from these key research and innovation actions, project partners have been very busy promoting and disseminating the importance and relevance of the microbiome to the food system and its potential to transform the European food system. Partners have presented the SIMBA project at conferences, workshops, seminars and public outreach events over the last year. This coming December, SIMBA will host a parallel session at NANO-DAY 2019 in Milan, Italy, this will provide an opportunity for SIMBA partners to present their outputs and engage with young researcher, industry, academics working and interested in nanotechnology and nanomaterials in agriculture and food production.
We recently launched the first SIMBA newsletter, which can be read here. You can keep up-to-date with the project by looking at our website (simbaproject.eu), our twitter page (@SIMBAproject_EU) and subscribe to receive news to your inbox here.