The Future of Food Part 10: Microbiomes and the Future of Nutrition

Microbiomes are defined as communities of microorganisms that live all around us -- in people, soil, plants, oceans and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain the functions of the planet’s diverse ecosystems and have a direct impact upon human health, climate change and food security.



There are many Microbiome applications for the development of sustainable food systems. A new project, funded by the European Union, is set to explore the potential of using microorganisms in plants and animals to improve food security.

The project, SIMBA (Sustainable Innovation of Microbiome Applications in Food System), has been designed to tackle the challenge of supplying food to a growing population, using microorganisms. A statement from the EU reads, ““as the world population is continuously increasing, the supply of food with equal accessibility has become a major issue and future challenge. Microbes are unexploited tool to increase food productivity and quality”.

SIMBA will focus on two separate but interconnected food chains: aquaculture and crop production.  It is known that Microbiomes are vital for the life and health of both humans and animals, and are the important components of food chains. However, little research has been carried out on the effects and impacts of Microbiomes in food chains. “The general objective of SIMBA is to get a better understanding of microbiomes’ structure and functions, related to marine and terrestrial food chains and to verify the sustainability of microbial innovations of the food system as a whole. Our research will result in increased food production and enhanced food quality and safety”, states the coordinator of SIMBA, Anne Pihlanto.

Another recent breakthrough in Microbiome research comes from the scientific findings by Carlota Bussolo de Souza, who received her PhD on the topic at Maastricht University (UM). She posits that waste from the food industry can be used to improve the gut flora of people who are overweight. It is argued that in the intestines of overweight men and women, fermenting fibre from fruit and vegetable peel can boost the level of butyric acid, which is the healthiest type of metabolite, and has been shown to protect against bowel cancer and increase metabolism.

Research will surely continue to focus on unpicking the mechanisms by which microbiomes are connected to food chains, as we pursue every resource and innovation available to ensure that we can feed and provide adequate nutrients to the planet’s growing population.