There is tremendous potential in microbiome research. It could revolutionize the way we treat health conditions, practice agriculture, and deal with ecological and environmental issues. Specific examples include:
- Deciphering ecological principles on which microbiome communities are established to learn how to manipulate the microbiome to support healthy function;
- Determining how the healthy microbiome acts as a barrier to infection caused by pathogens and how pathogens occasionally overcome this barrier;
- The use of probiotics to treat health conditions, such as enteric disease, obesity, heart disease, or autoimmune disorders;
- Investigations on “living” buildings that promote healthy immune system development or reduce the spread of viruses and allergens;
- Improved agricultural practices based on understanding relationships between plants, their associated microbiomes, and soil systems to improve crop production;
- The continued development and testing of growth-promoting animal feed that eliminates the need for antibiotics;
- The development of high-efficiency biological systems for the conversion of plant biomass to biofuels and bioproducts, and bioreactors that convert waste to energy or new chemicals;
- The expanded use of in silico tracking tools for invasive species based on nucleic acid and computational technology; and
- The advancement of predictive models of ecosystem-scale processes mediated by microbiomes that could be used to detect disease or stress within ecosystems.
These are all areas in which Oklahoma State University (OSU) has interdisciplinary strength and critical capabilities, including specialized facilities. Many other national programs at larger institutions focus more narrowly, particularly on human health. The potential at OSU is to develop research initiatives at the nexus points between health, food, energy, water, and materials and manufacturing. Our focus is to establish and foster a well-supported infrastructure for competitive research activity in Microbiome Science through inter- and intra-institutional relationships, excellence in student training, the use of cutting-edge technology platforms, and engagement of the existing OSU research community.
There is growing momentum in federal support for microbiome research. The National Microbiome Initiative reflects, in part, a report from the Fast Track Action Committee (FTAC) on Mapping the Microbiome established by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) which concluded that contemporary microbiome research is "uncovering an unprecedented potential for the application of microorganisms to human, plant, animal, and environmental health, renewable energy production, water treatment, and manufacturing."