The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will participate in a new National Microbiome Initiative launched today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The initiative, announced at an event in Washington, D.C., will advance the understanding of microbiome behavior and enable the protection of healthy microbiomes, which are communities of microorganisms that live on and in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain the healthy function of diverse ecosystems, and they influence human health, climate change, and food security.

The National Microbiome Initiative brings together scientists from more than 100 universities, companies, research institutions, and federal agencies. The goal is to investigate fundamental principles that govern microbiomes across ecosystems, and develop new tools to study microbiomes.

Berkeley Lab is well positioned to contribute to the national effort thanks to Microbes to Biomes, a Lab-wide initiative designed to understand, predict, and harness critical microbiomes for energy, food, environment, and health. The initiative involves scientists across Berkeley Lab in biology, environmental sciences, genomics, systems biology, computation, advanced imaging, material sciences, and engineering.

“It’s exciting to see this coordinated National Microbiome Initiative launched. It is very much in line with our interdisciplinary vision for Microbes-to-Biomes and our goals of building a functional understanding of Earth’s microbiomes,” says Eoin Brodie, deputy director of Berkeley Lab’s Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division.

In addition, Brodie is the corresponding author of an editorial published today in the journal mBio that calls for a predictive understanding of Earth’s microbiomes to address some of the most significant challenges of the 21st century. These challenges include maintaining our food, energy, and water supplies while improving the health of our population and Earth’s ecosystems. Trent Northen, director of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division, and Mary Maxon, Biosciences Area principal deputy, are co-authors of the editorial.

More about Berkeley Lab’s Microbes to Biomes Initiative

Berkeley Lab’s Microbes to Biomes initiative is designed to reveal, decode and harness microbes.

Microbes to Biomes brings together teams of Berkeley Lab scientists to discover causal mechanisms governing microbiomes and accurately predict responses. The goal is to harness beneficial microbiomes in natural and managed environments for a range of applications, including terrestrial carbon sequestration, sustainable growth of bioenergy and food crops, and environmental remediation.

The initiative, which aims to bridge the gap from microbe-scale to biome-scale science, takes advantage of Berkeley Lab’s capabilities, ranging from biology, environmental sciences, genomics, systems biology, computation, advanced imaging, materials sciences, and engineering.

Berkeley Lab scientists are developing new approaches to monitor, simulate, and manipulate microbe-through-biome interactions and feedbacks. They’re also creating controlled laboratory “ecosystems,” which will ultimately be virtually linked to ecosystem field observatories. The initial goal is to build a mechanistic and predictive understanding of the soil-microbe-plant biome.

More about the mBio editorial

ThepotentialimpactofaunifiedMicrobiomeinitiativetounderstandandresponsiblyharnesstheactivitiesofmicrobial communities. (Credit: Diana Swantek, Berkeley Lab)

The potential impacts of a unified microbiome initiative to understand and responsibly harness the activities of microbial communities. (Credit: Diana Swantek, Berkeley Lab)

The mBio paper makes the case that given the extensive influence of microorganisms across our biosphere—they’ve shaped our planet and its inhabitants for over 3.5 billion years—and new scientific capabilities, the time is ripe for a cross-disciplinary effort to understand, predict, and harness microbiome function to help address the big challenges of today.

This effort could draw on rapidly improving advances in gene function testing as well as precision manipulation of genes, communities, and model ecosystems. Recently developed analytical and simulation approaches could also be utilized.

The goal is to improve prediction of ecosystem response and enable the development of new, responsible, microbiome-based solutions to significant energy, health, and environmental problems.

The mBio editorial was authored by eleven scientists from several institutions. The Berkeley Lab co-authors were supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit


Additional information:

  • Read this Oct. 28, 2015 Berkeley Lab newscenter article on the need for a national microbiome effort to harness microbes for health, energy, agriculture, and environment