National Growth Fund finances Dutch Holomicrobiome Institute


National Growth Fund finances Dutch Holomicrobiome Institute


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The government of the Netherlands has allocated €200 million from the country’s National Growth Fund for a public-private consortium that will conduct research into 'microbiomes' and economically interesting applications thereof. In the consortium, NIOO is partnering with ten Dutch universities, five university-medical centres, four universities of applied sciences, many other knowledge organisations and together with dozens of small and large companies and societal organisations.

Microbiomes are communities of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. "The Holomicrobiome Initiative combines all microbiomes for the first time: human, animal, plant, soil and water," emphasise Head of Department Jos Raaijmakers (Microbial Ecology) and NIOO director Geert de Snoo. "This is very important for the field of ecology," adds De Snoo. "Microorganisms are an essential part of ecosystems, which we will study integrally now."

The funds, which will add to €150 million that the dozens of consortium members and partners themselves contribute, will support the activities of a national 'Holomicrobiome Institute' over the next ten years.

Microorganisms are an essential part of ecosystems.

Prof. Dr Geert de Snoo, NIOO director

International leading position

Thanks to the new Institute, the Netherlands will be able to strengthen its international leading position in the field of microbiomes, that are essential for the health of people, animals, plants and the environment. The knowledge can yield many applications, contributing to health, sustainability and circularity in the Netherlands.

The cabinet allocated the funds based on the advice of the independent National Growth Fund Advisory Committee. In its advice, the committee notes the economic and social potential of the microbiome research field, the strong scientific starting position of the Netherlands and the innovative cross-domain approach and involvement of the business community.

The funds intended for the second half of the plan period (€140 million) are allocated subject to positive indicators on various criteria near the end of the first half.

Transcending domains, sectors

The Holomicrobiome Initiative is unique worldwide because it brings together and integrates microbiome research from all scientific domains and business sectors within one Institute. At present, microbiome research is spread over separate medical, veterinary, agricultural and water-oriented domains.

Due to this compartmentalisation, a lot of knowledge is lost, and uncertainty remains about how complex microbiomes influence each other across various sectors. Micro-organisms, after all, migrate between soils, crops, food products, water environments, (farm) animals and people. A joint, integrated approach will ensure innovative applications of micro-organisms, while providing clarity about their safe implementation.

We will focus our research on microbiome - bacteria, fungi and phages - solutions for reducing emissions of nutrients and greenhouse gases as well as increasing nutrient availability, plant growth, and health.

NIOO scientist Prof. Dr Eiko Kuramae

Bacteria, fungi and phages

What will NIOO be doing within this consortium? Researcher Eiko Kuramae: "For the concept-oriented research I'll coordinate the work together with 11 other professors and scientists within the consortium. Next to that, we will develop research projects focused on microbiome - bacteria, fungi and phages - solutions for reducing emissions of nutrients and greenhouse gases as well as increasing nutrient availability, plant growth, and health."

Her colleague Paul Bodelier will be involved in carbon cycling research, focusing on methane (CH4), while virus expert Mark Zwart will be doing phage research. Phages are viruses that attack bacteria. Kuramae: "By understanding the microbiomes we can harness their potential to improve sustainability by strengthening circular processes and meeting the demand for alternatives to fertilisers and pesticides."

Innovative microbiological applications

New microbiological applications can range from more environmentally friendly crop cultivation methods to improved animal feed, from healthier nutrition to reduced antibiotic use, from measures against water pollution to limiting emissions of greenhouse gases and nutrients (such as nitrogen) to the environment. Some of these microbiological applications may replace traditional chemical-based approaches.

"The Holomicrobiome Institute will look at microbiomes in a complete food system for the first time. It connects knowledge about compartments that have until now been researched separately, and scientific worlds that still operate separately," says Prof. Dr Marten Smidt, professor at the University of Amsterdam and coordinator of the application of such innovations.