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ECCO XLII Meeting

"Microbe & Microbiome Management for a Better Planet"

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Program schedule

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Main Topics/Session

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Microbes are part of the biodiversity associated with ecosystems, supporting the functionality of specific biological communities and ensuring the turnover of both organic matter and micro-elements in the environment. A better understanding of the role of microbial resources and their management is fundamental to optimise their contribution to assure environmental sustainability and preserve ecosystem services. Microbial resources and microbiomes can be relevant for a better understanding of the impact of global changes and also to develop bio-based solutions inspired by nature that can improve the resilience of the systems and mitigate the negative impacts.

Microbial life is fundamental to ensuring quality and safety of agri-food production. In soil and ecosystems of agricultural interest, microorganisms play a role in determining the efficiency of plant food production systems. The coevolution between plants and microorganisms is fundamental in giving shape to phenomena of interest for plant pathology and virtuous interkingdom interactions. Microorganisms can be crucial to ensure soil and plant health by contributing to regenerative agriculture systems. In food processing, microorganisms can influence all main aspects of quality (i.e. sensorial, nutritional, functional) and safety, in particular with reference to fermentation bioprocesses, biocontrol and the variability of chemical and biological contaminants.

Microbes are in a double relationship with respect to human and animal health, presenting pathogenic or beneficial effects. The crisscrossed concepts of co-evolution, holobiont and microbiome have translated the interaction between microbes and humans/animals to a new level of understanding. Pathogenic microbes can cause infectious diseases and undesired effects, while beneficial microbes contribute to digestive capacity, immune system function, and global well-being. Understanding the delicate balance between pathogenic and beneficial behaviours is crucial in maintaining optimal health, managing pathologies, and developing effective treatments against etiological agents. Therefore, the diffusion of zoonoses represents one of the most relevant targets in underlining that the health of the planet is unique, consistently with One Health approach.

Life of microbes, the first biological entities that colonise our planet, thrive in some of Earth’s most extreme environments, from scorching deserts to deep-sea vents. To improve knowledge on these organisms presents a 21st-century challenge with profound implications. Extremophiles offer insights into the limits of life and, at the same time, the potential for understanding extraterrestrial habitats. Furthermore, these resilient microorganisms offer opportunities to discover new biological architectures and to develop biotechnological applications, such as bio-based solutions, enzymes that function in extreme conditions, and novel antibiotics. In general, a major understanding and safeguarding of extremophile environments is crucial also to limit the anthropic impact on unique ecosystems and the valuable knowledge they hold.

Current knowledge on microbiomes associated with organisms and environments is increasing demonstrating the paramount relevance for the sustainability of the planet, with profound influence on health, agriculture, and industry. This shift in knowledge and applications, from the single organism to the complexity of microbiomes, implies a revolution in the preservation and conservation of microbial resources in specialized bio-banks, promoting the protect diverse microbiomes, safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. Balancing preservation with strategic exploitation holds the key to unlocking the full potential of microbiomes to support sustainability in productive systems, bearing innovative therapies, sustainable agricultural practices, and bio-inspired manufacturing.

The perception and understanding of microorganisms by citizens, media and public opinion remain difficult, also due to the microscopic nature of these organisms. Engaging common people in microbial studies fosters public understanding and participation in scientific endeavors. Public interest in the recent pandemic and the commercial relevance of microbiomes could be among the drivers to promote participation in citizen science initiatives. Moreover, involving the public in research promotes transparency and trust in scientific findings. However, challenges such as data quality control and ethical considerations are key aspects of a public approach to the science.

Advances in taxonomy, phylogeny, and functional genomics revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and biological systems. High-throughput sequencing, multi-omics approaches, and bioinformatics innovations promote massive data production and enable comprehensive analyses, unveiling evolutionary relationships and functional insights. Taxonomy now integrates molecular techniques, allowing for more accurate species classification and phylogenetic reconstructions. These advanced approaches facilitate targeted conservation efforts, personalized medicine, and the development of biotechnological innovations. Through interdisciplinary collaboration and technological innovation, researchers continue to push the boundaries of our knowledge, unveiling the intricate tapestry of life on Earth.

Microbial culture collections play a pivotal role in scientific research, necessitating robust networking, services, quality, and data management practices. Collaborative activities/projects facilitate the exchange of knowledge, skills, and resources among collections globally, fostering scientific advancements. This translates into consolidation and development of the services and the quality control measures developed in the microbial Biological Research Centers. Sharing recent results and best practices developed from ongoing projects and from the synergy of new international infrastructures represent cornerstones for promoting efficiency and innovation in this field. Effective data management systems organize and disseminate valuable information on microbial resources, enhancing research reproducibility and innovation.