Microbiomes – the key to a healthier planet

Microbiomes are communities of microorganisms living on or in animals, helping to keep them healthy. Changes in the composition of microbiomes could make wildlife more vulnerable to diseases which may be zoonotic – transmissible to humans – so monitoring them could help us to predict outbreaks of disease and protect global health. Dr Andrew Bartlow and colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, USA, have been studying screech owl microbiomes, analysing microbial DNA to further our understanding of the largely unexplored world of wildlife microbiomes.

Microbiomes are communities of tiny organisms, collectively known as microbiota. They are invisible to the human eye, living on and in all of us: layers of bacteria, viruses, and fungi covering our skin, gut, and every part of us. These ‘friendly’ microorganisms act as our body’s first line of defence, helping keep us healthy by preventing their destructive counterparts from invading, as well as assisting with all sorts of different bodily processes.