An assessment of US microbiome research
Genome-enabled technologies have supported a dramatic increase in our ability to study microbial communities in environments and hosts. Taking stock of previously funded microbiome research can help to identify common themes, under-represented areas and research priorities to consider moving forward. To assess the status of US microbiome research, a team of government scientists conducted an analysis of federally funded microbiome research. Microbiomes were defined as host-, ecosystem- or habitat-associated communities of microorganisms, and microbiome research was defined as those studies that emphasize community-level analyses using ’omics technologies. Single pathogen, single strain and culture-based studies were not included, except symbiosis studies that served as models for more complex communities. Fourteen governmental organizations participated in the data call. The analysis examined three broad research themes, eight environments and eight microbial categories. Human microbiome research was larger than any other environment studied, and the basic biology research theme accounted for half of the total research activities. Computational biology and bioinformatics, reference databases and biorepositories, standardized protocols and high-throughput tools were commonly identified needs. Longitudinal and functional studies and interdisciplinary research were also identified as needs. This study has implications for the funding of future microbiome research, not only in the United States but beyond.