Scientists from around the world have announced the formation of the International Human Microbiome Consortium (IHMC). This new initiative gathers the best minds and the latest research from the four corners of the globe with the aim of characterising the role of the human microbiome in the maintenance of health and disease. The microbiome refers to the genomes of all the microorganisms that live in or on our bodies. Scientists estimate that microbial cells outnumber human cells by ten to one. Despite their high numbers, they have gone largely unstudied by researchers, and as a result, their impact on human development, physiology, immunity, and nutrition is largely unknown. This is where the importance of the IHMC comes into play. Research gathered from the latest projects will be made freely available to the global scientific community through this new organisation. The IHMC is the latest in a trend of data sharing initiatives. Last September the heads of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Commission signed a letter of intent in which both parties officially agreed to merge the data from the NIH Human Microbiome Project and the EC Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (METAHIT) project. Both projects will contribute to the IHMC. According to Peer Bork, who is joint coordinator of EMBL's structural and computational biology unit, and in charge of data coordination and analysis for METAHIT, 'This global initiative will allow us to explore as yet unknown territories. Microbes contribute to human health and diseases and understanding their interaction with our bodies will have wide-ranging impacts on medicine, pharmacology, nutrition science and many other disciplines.' The IHMC is open for membership from any researchers who agree to the consortium's principles. These include a commitment to open, free and rapid data release in accordance with donor consent forms; common quality standards for data; the sharing of protocols and informed consent documents; the sharing of information about the progress of each project; and a common publication policy. 'We are excited to be a participant in this ambitious worldwide effort to understand the human microbiome,' commented NIH Director Elias A Zerhouni. 'Understanding the intricacy of the human microbiome and how microbial communities interact with the human genome is a complex task that will benefit from sharing information across projects and our commitment to provide a common resource which any scientist around the globe can access.' All data generated by IHMC projects will then be analysed and made available through the EMBL and the NIH Human Microbiome Project Data Analysis and Coordination Center. It is also envisioned that the data will be disseminated to other public databases. These include those hosted at the EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute and others supported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is part of the National Library of Medicine. All actions by the IHMC will be guided by a steering committee made up of a representative from each country's research funding agency, as well as a representative from each scientific project.