Tiny Microbes, Big Yields: The Future of Food and Agriculture
Collection EditorsPhillip Myer, Liesel Schneider
About this collectionOur world is made up of countless tiny living beings. There are so many of them, that they make up the largest number of living beings on the planet. These microscopic organisms, called microorganisms or microbes, cannot be seen with the naked eye. We encounter them daily and we interact with them through the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the natural processes within our own organ systems. Microbes have evolved with life on Earth to be important for its survival. They act as food for plants and animals, help humans and animals digest food, break down dead material, and even serve as guardians against bad microbes. Whether we realize it or not, humans rely on microbes to help make the food we eat every day, and understanding how they work helps us to improve our foods and agriculture.
It is amazing to examine how well microorganisms are incorporated into the food we eat, the plants we grow, and the animals we raise. Microbes help ferment foods to make products like cheeses and breads. They work in the soil to provide nitrogen to plants which helps them grow better. Special microbes live in the stomachs of cattle and sheep that allow them to digest grasses that humans cannot eat. Additionally, the energy produced from the microbial digestion of these grasses helps produce meat and milk. However, as with everything, we must take the good with the bad. Although many microbes are helpful, some are harmful and can cause illness. These “bad bugs” must be monitored to ensure they do not enter our food supply. The challenge is to interpret the ways the microbes are positively and negatively impacting food and agriculture and to untangle their complex network to promote improved and more efficient approaches to feed the world.
This collection of articles focuses on understanding more about microbial communities, biodiversity, and their relationships with food and agriculture. This includes, but is not limited to, food and animal production, animal health, food safety, crop safety and production, and agricultural sustainability through microbial-based approaches. What we can learn about these tiny living beings can help provide safe, nutritious, and sustainable food to a growing human global population.
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