International leading scientists issue critical guide for using microbiomes to combat the global issue of biodiversity loss

Dr. Raquel Peixoto uses probiotics to boost the recovery of threatened coral ecosystems.

Dr. Raquel Peixoto team have developed a science-based framework, outlining a path from laboratory bench to pilot and large-scale applications of microbiomes, to save threatened ecosystems.

Dr. Raquel Peixoto is the founder and co-chair of BMMO, and associate professor of marine science said, "Key ecosystems, which host many forms of life, are at the brink of ecological collapse, driving enormous biodiversity losses and mass extinctions, and disrupting ecosystems central to supporting livelihoods." 

Beneficial Microbes for Marine Organisms (BMMO), an international network of collaborators with expertise in crosscutting areas of probiotic research, have published a paper in Nature Microbiology, Harnessing the microbiome to prevent global biodiversity loss, that provides a science-based framework to accelerate the responsible research and development of microbiome solutions.

Contributing authors include professors Gabriele Berg of The Graz University of Technology; Christian Voolstra of the University of Konstanz; Ute Hentschel of GEOMAR; Rodrigo Costa of the University of Lisbon; Carlos Duarte of KAUST; and ethicist Jeantine Lunsh of Harvard, among other distinguished academics.

"As a network of leading scientists, we are concerned that the technological development of an urgently-needed tool may be delayed by unclear and undefined risk assessment steps," said KAUST Distinguished Professor of Marine Science Carlos Duarte, who serves as executive director of the Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform (CORDAP). 

"In addition, no ethical discussions are available to provide guidelines and rules to accelerate the transition from devising to applying environmental probiotics in a practical and safe way. Therefore, we are highlighting the path from concept to real-world solutions, addressing ethical considerations, as well as risks against benefits."

The paper serves to address this gap. The framework also considers the risk of inaction, and can be adapted to other urgent scientific developments. 

"Our framework provides a pragmatic regulatory wildlife-adapted tool to guide scientists and stakeholders through the fight against biodiversity loss," Peixoto said.  "It takes into consideration potential side effects of its application, while also considering the high toll of inaction." 

Pic courtesy: Morgan Bennett Smith / KAUST