The microbiome and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

29 Oct 2019

Science, technology and innovation are recognised in the 2030 Agenda as critical to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals formulated by the United Nations consider all key biosphere and relevant human behaviours as interconnected and interdependent, and so must be achieved through a systems approach.[1] As a result, the SDGs are wide-ranging, from eliminating poverty and inequalities, to moderating climate change through sustainable cities, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and sustainable use of aquatic and terrestrial systems.

Attention has grown in recent years to the role of microbiome and biotechnology research in achieving societal challenges, specifically the SDGs. The microbiomes are the predominant form of life on the planet, in both numbers and total biomass. They can be found in and on the human body, on land and sea – even within the most hostile environments incompatible with most forms of life.1 It is increasingly apparent that microbes provide ecosystems services that are crucial to local and global sustainability. Microbiomes from land and sea can breakdown pollutants, support the activity of pathogenic microbes and produce oxygen.[2] Their ubiquity throughout the biosphere and the diversity of their activities make microbes pivotal agents and stewards of planetary health and sustainability.1

Microbiomes have the potential to advance many of the SDGs. The table below provides insight into the various ways microorganisms can play a role in achieving them.[3]

  • SDG 2 Zero Hunger: 
    • Improved nutritional value of food and reduced susceptibility of crops to disease, enhancing yields
    • Improve fertility of land to convert it into arable land in a variety of environments
    • Improve an individual’s microbiota so they can get more nutrients from the food they consume
  • SDG 3 Good Health and Well-being:
    • Optimise human microbiota to reduce their risk of illness including infectious and chronic diseases
    • Use the microbiota to help identify new biological targets and discover new therapies and new antibiotics
  • SDG 6 Clean Wahter and Sanitation:
    • Micro-organisms to purify the water in rivers, streams and lakes
    • Reduce nutrient run-off from agriculture, through using biofertilisers, and reduce pollution
  • SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy: 
    • Biofuels from non-food products such as abundant but underused lignocellulose (biomass) and greenhouse gases e.g. carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide
  • SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth:
    • New innovations and technologies in a range of industries to create new jobs and new businesses
    • Make new or improved industries. One example would be helping to create arable land and energy production opportunities in countries that are resource poor
  • SDG 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: 
    • Innovation to overcome the significant technical challenges in understanding and implementing this technology
    • Products that will create new and advanced industries including in healthcare and chemicals
  • SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities: 
    • Exposure to a wider more diverse microbiota than typically exist in urban areas as this may link with human health and disease.
    • Urban farms that use micro-organisms to enable crops and plants to grow
  • SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production: 
    • Agrichemical industry using fewer chemical, reducing waste, nutrients run-off, pollution and clean-up
    • Conversion of water products and underused products to useful products such as biofuels
  • SDG 13 Climate Action: 
    • Improved soil microbiota using micro-organisms that do not give off GHG
    • Reduced use of fossil fuels for chemical and energy industries, using micro-organisms to produce biofuels
    • Use of micro-organisms to reduce waste GHG and make useful products
  • SDG 14 Life Below Water & SDG 15 Life on Land: 
    • Reduced pollution with new bioproducts and manufacturing methods, increased ability to clean up water
    • Use of microbiota to preserve biodiversity and wellbeing of many other species

In SIMBA, partners are aiming to gain a better understanding of the microbiomes associated with the food system which will address a number of key societal challenges, including food and nutrition security (SDG 2), health and wellbeing (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), food waste management (SDG 12), adaptation and mitigation to climate change (SDG 13). The contribution to these SDGs will arise from the identification of suitable microbial consortia, the proper application of technology for functional food supply chains, including tools necessary to continue feeding the planet’s growing inhabitants. Knowledge will also be gathered on the benefits of sustainable diets that shape healthy human gut microbiota and, thus promote health.  For water, supply chain sustainability will be achieved through the developing consortia based on microalgae and marine microbiomes to strengthen fish production.

Reference list

[1] Timmis et al. (2017) The contribution of microbial biotechnology to sustainable development goals. Microbial Biotechnology, 10(5), 984–987 doi:10.1111/1751-7915.12818

[2] Dubilier et al (2015). Microbiology: Create a global microbiome effort. Nature, 526, 631 -634 doi:10.1038/526631a

[3] Project Breakthrough (2017) The Microbiome, Our microscopic allies. United Nations Global Compact: