Weaponizing microbes to stave off conflicts across the globe

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Microorganisms should be 'weaponized' to stave off conflicts across the globe, according to a team of eminent microbiologists.

The paper 'Weaponising microbes for peace' by Anand et al, outlines the ways in which microbes and microbial technologies can be used to tackle global and local challenges that could otherwise lead to conflict, but warns that these resources have been severely underexploited to date.

Professor Kenneth Timmis, Founding Editor of AMI journals Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology Reports and Microbial Biotechnology, says that worldwide deficits and asymmetries in basic resources and services considered to be human rights, such as drinking water, sanitation, healthy nutrition, access to basic healthcare and a clean environment, can lead to competition between peoples for limited resources, tensions, and in some cases conflicts.

There is an urgent need to reduce such deficits, to level up, and to assure provision of basic resources for all peoples. This will also remove some of the causes of conflicts. There is a wide range of powerful microbial technologies that can provide or contribute to this provision of such resources and services, but deployment of such technologies is seriously underexploited."

Professor Kenneth Timmis, Founding Editor of AMI journals Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology Reports and Microbial Biotechnology

The paper then lists a series of ways in which microbial technologies can contribute to challenges such as food supply and security, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare, pollution, energy and heating, and mass migrations and overcrowding. For example, microbes are at the core of efforts to tackle pollution by bioremediation, replacing chemical methods of treating drinking water with metalloid conversion systems, and producing biofuels from wastes.

"There is now a desperate need for a determined effort by all relevant actors to widely deploy appropriate microbial technologies to reduce key deficits and asymmetries, particularly among the most vulnerable populations," Professor Timmis said..

"Not only will this contribute to the improvement of humanitarian conditions and levelling up, and thereby to a reduction in tensions that may lead to conflicts, but also advance progress towards attainment of Sustainable Development Goals," he said. .

"In this paper, we draw attention to the wide range of powerful microbial technologies that can be deployed for this purpose and how sustainability can be addressed at the same time. We must weaponise microbes for peace."

The editorial is published in Microbial Biotechnology, an Applied Microbiology International publication, on March 7 2023.

Recommended actions to implement relevant microbial technology solutions to deficits

We need to urgently supply to communities lacking adequate levels of basic resources/services the infrastructure and know-how (capacity building), and funding for

  1. use of agrobiologics to increase crop yields, by providing green nitrogen, stimulating plant growth, and combatting pathogens and pests,

  2. exploitation of plant:microbe partnerships to improve soil health and implement regenerative agriculture,

  3. creation of nutritious fermented food from locally available crops,

  4. better use of microbes in the feed and food supply chains,

  5. production of microbial food for humans and farm animals,

  6. drinking water production and quality safeguarding,

  7. waste treatment with resource recovery,

  8. creation of modular DIY digital medical centres,

  9. production of vaccines and medicines,

  10. bioremediation and biorestoration of the environment in general and natural ecosystems in particular, to create healthier habitats and promote biodiversity

  11. reduction of greenhouse gas production and capturing carbon,

  12. production of biofuels,

  13. creation of local employment opportunities associated with the above,

  14. development of transdisciplinary approaches, using chemistry-related, computation technologies, psychology-related and other approaches that are synergistic to microbial solutions and

  15. education in societally relevant microbiology

Source:
Journal reference:

Anand, A., et al. (2023) Weaponising microbes for peace. Microbial Biotechnology. doi.org/10.1111/1751-7915.14224.

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