Partnership development supports microbiome research
Professor Hauke Smidt from the Laboratory of Microbiology at Wageningen University & Research explains the importance of partnerships to connect the different expertises needed in microbiome research. ‘I am motivated to take part in big consortia, because just like the many different microbes that interact in microbiomes we can cannot study them alone. A mixture of expertises and infrastructures is needed to implement the diverse tools and concepts for studying microbiomes’.
Microbiome research is important for many ecosystems
Microbiomes (microbial communities and their activity in a given ecological context) are everywhere around us and play important roles in all ecosystems. Professor Hauke Smidt is involved in several big consortia that study microbiomes. ‘Microbiomes are important for many systems, because they are involved directly in important functions that improve for example food production, animal welfare, animal production and pathogen suppression in agriculture. They are also involved in many indirect effects, like greenhouse gas emissions from for example thawing permafrost or ruminants.’
MicrobiomeSupport helps to find common ground and future research directions
One of the initiatives that Hauke Smidt, together with his colleagues from Wageningen Plant Research (Dr. Leo van Overbeek) and Corporate Strategy and Accounts (Dr. Christine Bunthof and Dr. Annelein Meisner), is involved in is MicrobiomeSupport. This initiative, funded by the European Commission (H2020 programme), supports the working group ‘food microbiomes’ of the International Bioeconomy Forum (IBF) and consists of 20 European and 9 non-European partners. ‘The added value of MicrobiomeSupport is being in contact with a network of partners involved in the action and being able to discuss and brainstorm about future research directions and new developments for microbiome research. We have, for example, held a workshop where we debated and refined the definition of microbiomes. The publication, which resulted from this discussion, is powerful, as we are working globally together in different fields of microbiome research.’
Microbiome research is complex and needs many players
Smidt is not only involved in MicrobiomeSupport, but also in several other transnational cooperations that perform microbiome research like the project RumenPredict funded via the ERA-Net FACCE ERA-GAS1 and innovation action MASTER2. National research includes cooperative projects like BE-Basic3 and CCC4. He is furthermore coordinator of the recently established UNLOCK5 large scale research infrastructure for microbiome research funded by the Dutch Research Council, Wageningen University & Research and Delft University of Technology. Being involved with research in partnerships, brings many advantages, according to Smidt: ‘It is an illusion to think that you can solve all issues involved in microbiome research by yourself. For example, knowledge about microorganisms, their physiology, bioinformatics, as well as knowledge on the functioning of the ecosystems, are needed for successful microbiome studies. As such, complementarity in expertise is needed and that can be only found in consortia.’
Partnerships evolve into new actions
The different partnerships, initiatives and projects where Smidt is involved in, are connected with each other, which leads to opportunities for future initiatives. ‘The advantage is that we are a big network that know each other, which can create opportunities for future research and innovation projects’. There is overlap with the partners in for example the H2020 project MASTER and the MicrobiomeSupport Initiative. In addition, partners working on ruminant microbiomes participate in both ERA-NET FACCE ERA-GAS and MASTER. Further, the BE-Basic program stood at the roots of the recently funded open source infrastructure UNLOCK. ‘Often, we discuss opportunities for creating a new consortium or research programme, after which someone usually is willing to take the initiative as coordinator and others as partners. I have been involved in both roles in partnerships.’ As such, being involved in transnational partnerships can lead to new exciting initiatives, opening up new horizons for discovery, characterization and application of microbiomes.
1Rumenpredict brings together members of the international rumen genomic network to study greenhouse gas mitigation strategies that contribute to the impact of ruminants on the environment. This project is funded via ERA-NET FACCE ERA-GAS, which cofunds research for monitoring and mitigation of greenhouse gasses from agri- and silvi-culture.
2MASTER is an Innovation Action funded by H2020 programme that aims to develop concrete microbiome products, foods/feeds, services or processes with high commercial potential across multiple food chains.
3Be-Basic is a public-private partnership with as mission “to develop industrial biobased solutions for a sustainable society”. Hauke Smidt was involved in projects related to the environmental impact of chemicals, bio-based molecules and processes.
4CCC is Carbohydrate Competence Center that funds research projects with as aims to create new carbohydrate based products and processes.
5Unlock is a research infrastructure supporting microbiome research.