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White House Launches Microbiome Initiative

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today announced the formation of a National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) — a collaboration of government agencies and private companies to research microbiomes across different ecosystems.

"The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function," the OSTP said in a statement. A year-long process to determine the project's focus homes in on three specific goals: supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems; developing technologies for microbiome research and data sharing; and expanding the microbiome workforce.

The NMI will launch with an investment of more than $121 million from various federal agencies for 2016 and 2017, including $20 million from the National Institutes of Health, $16 million from the National Science Foundation, $10 million from the Department of Energy, $12.5 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and more than $15.9 million from the Department of Agriculture.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology said it plans to develop standards and measurement tools so that discoveries made in various labs can be compared to one another and replicated.

There are also several private foundations and companies that will contribute to the efforts, OSTP said. Among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $100 million over four years to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes; JDRF will invest $10 million over five years to study the microbiome in relation to type 1 diabetes; the University of California, San Diego is investing $12 million in The Center for Microbiome Innovation; the University of Michigan, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Procter and Gamble are teaming up to invest $3.5 million in the Michigan Microbiome Project for undergraduate students conducting microbiome research; and the BioCollective and Health Ministries Network are investing $250,000 to build a microbiome data and sample bank.

In its own announcement today, One Codex said it is launching a public portal for microbiome data to make the information accessible to researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals. The company is partnering with the Metagenomics and Metadesign of the Subways and Urban Biomes consortium, the Extreme Microbiome Project, and the Metagenomics Research Group of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities to create integrated software for the analysis of genomic sequences from a broad range of microbial communities.

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said today they are also taking part in the NMI by collaborating on a joint venture dedicated to better understanding the human microbiome. Pitt's Center for Medicine and the Microbiome will bring clinicians and researchers together to explore how the microbiome affects health and disease, and to find new therapies for diseases affected by the microbiome.

"The very nature of the microbiome involves many organs and affects many areas of medicine — from infectious disease, to cancer biology, to inflammatory bowel disease, to immunology — requiring collaboration between the many disciplines of science and medicine, something UPMC and Pitt have a proven track record of achieving," Mark Gladwin, chair of medicine and professor of internal medicine at Pitt, said in a statement.

The center will receive more than $5 million from Pitt's Department of Medicine, UPMC, UPMC Enterprises, the Pitt School of Dental Medicine, and uBiome, a microbial genomics company based in San Francisco.

In one project the center plans to undertake, researchers will collaborate with Pitt's School of Dental Medicine to sequence 3,500 previously collected saliva samples. The center further plans to launch the Pittsburgh Biome Project to crowd-source a large collection of gut microbiome samples from local community members. The scientists will also focus on the development and treatment of drug-resistant pathogens and the use of fecal transplantation for various diseases.