For more than 3.5 billion years microbes and their communities (microbiomes) have shaped the Earth and its inhabitants. A holistic understanding of the role of our planet’s microbiomes is key to addressing the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. By analyzing their constituent genes, RNA molecules, proteins, and chemical metabolites, we are beginning to gain profound insights into the crucial role played by microbiomes in human health and disease. The microbiota associated with crops and soils provide nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients, decompose pollutants, and inhibit the activity of pathogens. Through photosynthesis, microbes in the oceans remove 50% of atmospheric carbon dioxide and generate the same amount of oxygen. Given the extensive roles of microbes, a greater appreciation of microbiome function would help us to address the challenges that we face to supply food, energy, and clean water while maintaining and improving the health of our population and ecosystems - actions which are crucial to achieving sustainability.
Rapid advances in the microbiome field have been made possible by interdisciplinary research. If we are to harness microbiome function to achieve sustainability, we need to promote such integrative thinking. Thus, an interdisciplinary strategy that promotes collaboration and creative problem-solving will also be introduced.