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Towards coordinated microbiome R&I activities in the food system to support (EU and) international bioeconomy goals

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MicrobiomeSupport (Towards coordinated microbiome R&I activities in the food system to support (EU and) international bioeconomy goals)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

The European Commission launched in October 2016 the International Bioeconomy Forum (IBF), a flexible multilateral platform with the aim to connect European and global R&I partners to discuss and act on common challenges in the field of bioeconomy. R&I on microbiomes are considered as having a major impact on multiple aspects of the bioeconomy and FOOD 2030 strategy. IBF is used as a platform to share ideas and experiences on bioeconomy policies, strategies and actions, fostering collaboration and joint activities that will promote innovation in key sectors. IBF has defined four working groups (WGs), which include a WG on ´Food Systems Microbiome` (MicrobiomeSupport project), a WG on ´ICT in Precision Food Production`, a WG on ´Plant Health`, and a WG on ´Forestry`. MicrobiomeSupport supports the EU Commission with the implementation of activities, integration of experts, and coordination within the working group on ‘Food Systems Microbiome’.
A better understanding of the microbiomes associated with the food system helps to address a number of key societal challenges including food and nutrition security, health and wellbeing, food waste management, climate change adaptation and mitigation. Microbiomes play an important role for human and environmental health and will form the basis within MicrobiomeSupport to address and enable innovative microbiome applications in the food system and beyond generating true benefit for the society. There is pressing need of the society to improve productivity, quality, safety, health, market orientation, adaptability, and international competitiveness within the value chains related to food systems. Microbiomes are known to substantially contribute to the productivity and safety of major food and nutrition products resulting in healthy food for humans.
MicrobiomeSupport has the overall objective to establish an international network of experts and stakeholders in the field of microbiome food system research. The strategy that global challenges should be tackled via global approaches by multilateral cooperation and coordination is the basis for the project in cooperation with the IBF strategies. This includes the need for a better alignment of R&I (policy) agendas in Europe and worldwide as well as the alignment of databases and data evaluation methodologies. MicrobiomeSupport integrates 27 project beneficiaries and 2 associated partners from 23 different countries worldwide and involves several stakeholders form science, industry and public funding institutions to interactive workshops, surveys and common elaboration of definitions and common understanding within microbiome R&I.
MicrobiomeSupport implemented a survey and mapping exercise in order to establish a database containing relevant information on microbiome-related funding programmes, research projects as well as organisations involved in research, education and industry. An efficient Common Ground Workshop was organized in Vienna, Austria, hosted by the Coordinator AIT in March 2019 and was interactively attended by more than 100 experts representing a broad field of expertise within the microbiome field. Participants presented and discussed the current situation within the microbiome R&I landscape. A concept and structure for an expert database was developed and implemented within the MicrobiomeSupport website. In addition, a bibliometric analysis for the establishment of a synthesis paper on global microbiome activities was completed.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium implemented several workshops on common definitions, standards and joint protocols and organised online surveys and discussions to define the term microbiome. Two successful workshops were held in Austria in March 2019 which have been a “Microbiome Definition” Workshop with the the aim to provide a clear and broadly acceptable microbiome definition and a “Biobanking & Data Storage” Workshop with the aim to review the current status of biobanks and to define a “blue print” on requirements. These workshops were attended by more than 30 experts. In parallel, a survey on the understanding and definition of the term microbiome was organised among stakeholders which contributed to the above listed workshops. Two major publications were developed from these workshops, one already accepted in the widely recognized open access journal ‘Microbiome’, the other one is currently under review.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium assessed tools promoting networking, identifying commonly agreed gaps and future R&I topics and analysed the existing regulations in the field in order to propose realistic and coordinated R&I agendas. Based on two case studies it has been assessed whether existing funding instruments like Knowledge Hubs or Knowledge Platforms are suitable tools to enable transnational collaboration and multidisciplinary networks while aligning research priorities. A Trans-sectorial Workshop “Microbiomes in Food systems towards a European research and innovation agenda” was held in Brussels in February 2020.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium paved the way for intense discussions aligned with the other three IBF working groups. These discussions were launched in parallel to the MicrobiomeSupport kick-off meeting in Ottawa, Canada, in November 2018. Further discussions took place during the IBF meeting in Vancouver, Canada, in May 2019 and a meeting of the working group “Food Systems Microbiome” held in Wellington, New Zealand, in February 2020. A concept and structure for a common IBF Website as well as design has been developed within this period.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium established solid foundations for impactful communication and dissemination, as well as commencing outreach to target audiences for them to be aware of MicrobiomeSupport once project results will become available. A project visual identity with a project logo, a MicrobiomeSupport communication and dissemination plan, an informal communication guide for the project partners as well as the project website was developed and implemented.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium paved the way to a coordinated global approach within the microbiome R&I by the implementation of a mapping action and database set up to better understand the current state of play within microbiome research. Synergies have been identified and more coherent research objectives and outputs are targeted on an international basis within the IBF. Complementary activities have been assessed based on expertises in several research groups, priorities and relevant facilities are and will be further identified. Mapping and the public database will enhance collaboration between academia and industry in order to develop new innovations to the market. In addition, the integration of several stakeholders from the MicrobiomeSupport advisory groups ensured a critical mass of supporting experts to the mapping.
The MicrobiomeSupport consortium worked on and suggested commonly agreed definitions for the term “Microbiome”, common standards, protocols and data interpretation in the field of biobanks and data storage. In the course of the project this will result in a better use of existing data from R&I projects but also a more efficient exploration and assessment of future data including a better basis for the comparison of data and results on a global level. During several workshops current practices and protocols have been assessed and new protocols established.