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Industrial microbiomes – learning from nature


Proposals should focus on concrete bio-based processes and/or products. They should embrace an understanding of natural consortia mechanisms and their transposition to industrial environments, and involve the engineering of synthetic microbial consortia inspired by the metabolic interaction found in nature. Proposals should employ the use of -omics tools to understand, monitor and exploit microbial communities in the industrial environment. Activities should focus on the optimisation of existing industrial processes or on the design and development of wholly new ones, in order to improve process and product quality and safety.

Activities should optimise the use of pre-existing databases and research infrastructures (including distributed and virtual ones) and the opportunities offered by big-data management tools, thus ensuring interoperability, standard methods and enhanced networking. Multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral experts should cooperate, share standards across borders and disciplines and integrate resources. The interdisciplinary, cross-sectorial approach should also apply to training activities to improve professional skills and competencies, and support job creation in the bio-based and bioeconomy sectors. Cooperation with other selected proposals under this topic is encouraged.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting an EU contribution of around EUR 6 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Microorganisms are used in the bio-based industry to produce a wide range of products. To date, most bulk and speciality bio-based products from biorefineries are based on microbial monocultures. Monocultures are optimised for simple processes, so their efficiency is limited in complex situations, e.g. in integrated biorefineries generating several added-value chemicals and ideally using a wide variety of feedstock. In nature, microorganisms do not live and function in isolation: they form complex communities associated with specific habitats (microbiomes). Compared with monocultures, microbial communities possess many appealing and powerful features such as stability, functional robustness and the ability to perform complex tasks. These have inspired rapidly growing interest in industrial microbiomes.

The challenge is to use industrial microbiome approaches to optimise existing industrial processes and/or to develop wholly new microbiome-based industrial processes.

In the framework of the renewed 2018 EU Bioeconomy Strategy, proposals are expected to:

  • raise awareness of microbiomes’ potential to transform and future-proof the bio-based economy;
  • improve overall knowledge of the industrial microbiome with a view to responding to market needs;
  • improve the bio-based sector’s overall sustainability (including climate change mitigation) and innovation capacity by using microbiome applications and knowledge;
  • strengthen the market position and increase the market share of bio-based solutions;
  • deliver results in a form that allows for efficient feedback into policymaking in research, innovation and technology;
  • demonstrate solutions and develop strategies for innovation based on the microbiome approach, building on enhanced cooperation between all stakeholders and exploiting the opportunities offered by big data; and
  • raise awareness and create a better framework for systemic innovation and uptake of results through broad stakeholder engagement.