Over the past four years, the EU-funded project MicrobiomeSupport has worked diligently to align, structure and boost research and innovation in the microbiome field. Before officially ending in October 2022, MicrobiomeSupport held its final event in form of a 3-day high-level conference around the theme “Paving the Microbiome Way for Improved Food Systems”. The event took place in an entirely in-person format in Brussels and gave participants the chance to learn about highlights from the project and uncover the potential of microbiomes in different thematic sessions.
The conference was attended by over 110 people from over 20 countries worldwide and saw high-quality exchanges between policy, industry and scientific stakeholders on pathways for microbiomes to contribute to the urgently needed food system transformation to deliver on healthy, sustainable, safe and resilient foods. Attendees had the chance to learn from the greatest experts in the field, being informed about up-to-date research data on microbiomes in different types of environments (soil, plants, aquatic environments, animals, humans), and participate in discussion with governmental and institutional representatives on new policy approaches, innovation strategies and economic aspects around food system microbiomes. The event also provided fertile ground and numerous opportunities to exchange and build new partnerships, including a networking reception on the first day. It was a great pleasure for the project to welcome a plethora of speakers from European countries, but also representatives from the IBF (International Bioeconomy Forum) countries, bringing in also the international perspective on microbiomes and promoting exchange on a global level.
One of the highlights of the event was the contribution of John Bell, the Director of Healthy Planet at the European Commission, who described microbiome research as “one of the great motors of change” and emphasized the enormous opportunities it offers for shaping society, ecology and the economy. He also hinted, however, at the great responsibility facing the microbiome community and stated that this is a critical moment to act and set the direction for the future. He encouraged continuous investment and attention to the microbiome field, making use of the next round of Horizon Europe calls and engaging in the EU Missions.
A further highlight was a roundtable discussion on the second day, which featured representatives from industry, the European Commission, FAO and the MicrobiomeSupport consortium. The aim of the roundtable was to explore how the food system’s microbiome can help deliver on current, pressing socio-economic and environmental challenges, whilst acknowledging that the scientific field at large is still underdeveloped compared to the potential it holds. In this matter, one of the key considerations was the dual impact of COVID-19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine on our food system’s resilience and food security, and it was explored how microbiome-based solutions can be used to respond to these new and existing threats. Resulting reflections and conclusions from the roundtable will be used in a scientific publication focused on food security.