Interview with CIRCLES coordinator Marco Candela from the University of Bologna, Italy, who outlines the importance of microbes in the food system, what we know about them, how we can take advantage of our knowledge and how CIRCLES will do so.



Why are microbes in the food system important?
Microbes in the food system are important because of their untapped potential to be exploited for a more sustainable food production. Microbes are everywhere in our food system – from the soil, to the plants we eat, to the fields and depth of the oceans in which food animals are raised and grow. Naturally, humans and animals also carry an enormous range of microbes. Within the food system microbes play an important role in all fundamental steps of the food chain, be it for supporting animal, human and plant health, aiding composting processes for food waste degradation or maintaining a healthy ecosystem in which we can all thrive.
To maintain the current level of food production in times of climate change and population growth, a shift in thinking is needed from mass to sustainable food production and harvest. Sustainability means, among other things, to keep the microbial diversity high and to enable microbes to thrive so that they can continue to nourish and enhance our food system. Therefore, CIRCLES will explore how microbes can be used for a more sustainable future.

What do we know about microbes in the food system?
Not much is known about microbes in the food system. Yet, CIRCLES is optimistic that there is a large untapped probiotic potential. There’s still is a long journey to go until they are fully optimized, therefore it’s important that fundamental research is carried out. Two paths are important:
• mapping all microbes found in the food system;
• exploring their physiology and co-existence.

How can we take advantage of microbes to improve our food system?
The potential of microbes lays in better understanding their existence and optimizing their use. Microbes follow very complex ecological rules: it is essential to get a better understanding of the effect of these through fundamental research. Their structure, dynamics and connection need to be optimized based on these ecological rules.

What will CIRCLES do about microbes in the food system?
The EU project CIRCLES will provide better knowledge about microbes, as a foundation to set up concrete actions. Actions to optimize microbes in the food system are needed to achieve a new and concrete paradigm for sustainable food production and ultimately maintain smart and sustainable microbiome food systems in the EU and beyond.