The White House Just Pledged Millions of Dollars to Study Bacteria

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Photo: PASIEKA

It never hurts to ask. Last fall, scientists who study the microbiome published a plea in Science: If those fancy neuroscientists could get a bunch of government money to study the brain — for the project dubbed the BRAIN Initiative — don’t the planet’s millions of microbes also deserve to be studied?

Today, that request appears to have been answered. The White House just announced the launch of the National Microbiome Initiative, which will be funded by $121 million from the government plus an additional $400 million from private donors, reports USA Today.

The initiative will investigate all manner of microbes, studying the makeup of the tiny bugs found in the earth, water, and animals, to name a few. But the human microbiome, and particularly the human-gut microbiome, will also get its share of scrutiny — an exciting prospect, considering the recent research projects that have found an association between distinctions in individuals’ gut bacteria and rates of autism, allergies, depression and other mood disorders, certain cancers, and obesity. Already, two scientists in Tel Aviv claim they may one day be able to assign people personalized diets, based on the makeup of their gut microbes.

These are some teensy creatures with some mighty potential. Let’s see what they can do.