Large-scale Human Modification of the Planetary Microbiome
Through the Earth Microbiome Program and complementary efforts, we have sampled a broad range of microbiomes from across the planet. All microbiomes that have been studied are impacted by human activity — the effects of industrialization on the human microbiome are best characterized, but capture of animals in zoos, domestication, modification of soils through agricultural practices, and modification of freshwater and marine microbiomes have all been well characterized. Indeed, the pervasive role of environmental microbiomes in biogeochemical cycles necessary to sustain life led to a position paper entitled "Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change”, the title of which speaks for itself. However, there is hope. Just as there have been relatively few extinctions in the ocean ecosystem relative to terrestrial ecosystems, because the ocean is vast and connected and most species are still present somewhere (i.e. there are no mammoths but there are still blue whales), microbial ecosystems are also vast, connected, and likely harbor “seed banks” of globally rare but locally abundant microbes that can be used for re-seeding. Efforts such as the Microbiota Vault will be especially important in this respect, but also new monitoring and modeling approaches will be understand where to look globally for the best specimens and microbes to preserve.