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Scientists propose creation of International Microbiome Initiative

BEIJING, Oct. 29 — A panel of three scientists from China, Germany and the US jointly called for an International Microbiome Initiative (IMI) on Thursday, to help people better understand how microorganisms can benefit the biosphere and human health.

The scientists made the call in the article "Microbiology: Create a global microbiome effort," which was published in the Nature science journal on Thursday.

According to the article, a holistic understanding of the role of microorganisms in the biosphere and in human health "is key to meeting many of the challenges that face humanity in the 21st century, from energy to infection to agriculture."

The article further illustrated how microbes benefit the ecosystem and "are crucial to local and global sustainability."

The authors named two major stumbling blocks to advance people's understanding of microbes' role, including the fragmentation of the life-sciences field, and a lack of coordination among the various microbiome research endeavors under way.

Since 2005, at least eight programs have been established to study the human microbiome, with a number of researchers from several countries dedicated to the projects, including initiatives launched by Chinese scientists.

"These initiatives have generated vast amounts of data that are not easily comparable," the article says. "This lack of consistency in approaches means that effective comparisons and interpretations of human microbiota studies are often not possible."

Therefore, the scientists called for an IMI, believing that it will bring together all experts by generating much more knowledge, encouraging the integration of data globally, among other approaches.

"Most importantly, an IMI is essential when it comes to solving problems that affect the biosphere," the article said.

"It is crucial that the IMI is launched quickly to avoid corrective actions having to be applied after-the-fact to national efforts," said Zhao Liping, professor of microbiology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Chinese member on the panel.

A microorganism is a microscopic living organism, which may be single celled or multicellular. Microorganisms are diverse and include all the bacteria and archaea and almost all the protozoa. (PNA/Xinhua)

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