ASM Responds to Request for Information on National Nature Assessment

Sept. 18, 2023

Attn: Chris Avery 
U.S. Global Change Research Program 
1800 G Street NW, Suite 9100 
Washington, DC 20006 

Sept. 18, 2023 
Comments re: Draft Prospectus for the National Nature Assessment 

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is one of the oldest and largest life science societies with 30,000 members in the U.S. and around the world. Our mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences, including programs and initiatives funded by federal government departments and agencies, by virtue of the integral role microorganisms play in human health and society. Microbiology is a multidisciplinary endeavor, and our members’ research is fundamental to advances in human health, agriculture, energy and the environment. ASM urges the U.S. Global Change Research Program to incorporate microbial biodiversity into the assessment, across chapters and other outputs associated with the NNA, and to involve microbiologists in the drafting of the assessment. 

ASM appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft National Nature Assessment (NNA) prospectus and supports the development of the assessment. ASM and our members appreciate the wide range of objectives in the NNA draft prospectus, including safety and security, conservation and natural resources, economic interests, environmental justice and equal access to nature and nature’s benefits and human health and well-being. Microorganisms, being the most abundant and diverse organisms on Earth, are relevant across these domains and should thus be considered across the National Nature Assessment. ASM is ready to help draft the NNA through recruiting our members and experts to participate as authors, identifying domain level experts for the assessment and providing peer-reviewed information about microbial biodiversity and ecosystems.  

Microorganisms are the most abundant and diverse organisms on Earth (Locey and Lennon 2016). Microbes include viruses, bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and protozoa and are found in all areas of the planet, including terrestrial, urban, atmospheric, subsurface and aquatic ecosystems. While small, microbes' contributions to the planet's climate are momentous because of their sheer numbers. Microbes are major drivers of global geochemical cycling, critical symbionts of global crops and important producers and consumers of the important greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Microbes are important drivers of ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity across terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and across urban and rural environments. 

Microbial diversity is important to the overarching themes of the NNA identified in the draft prospectus, including human health, safety and security, economic interests and climate. For example, humans’ expansion into novel natural environments has increased exposure to pathogens, impacting human health. This, coupled with environmental changes, raises the possibility of zoonotic spillover events and increased interactions with possible animal reservoirs of disease. Novel environments also include increased spatial and temporal ranges. As temperature increases and climate changes, pathogens and vector species are expected to expand their regional distributions. Given the implications for human and animal health and well-being, the NNA should include information about the status and distribution of microorganisms. Human health is directly and indirectly impacted by the soil microbiome. The soil microbiome is a reservoir of future pharmaceuticals and industrial products (Banerjee and Heijden, 2023; Trinh et al., 2018). 

Furthermore, microbial diversity is still relatively unknown, so the impacts of habitat loss on microbial diversity, ecosystem function and even potential bioproducts is not well understood (Paul and Mormile 2017). The NNA could play an important role by pulling together existing information on this topic. 

Microorganisms greatly impact food production, affecting our safety and security. Similar to their effects on human health, microbes act as both pathogens and promoters of plant, animal and soil health. Plant pathogens decrease crop yield and quality, while beneficial plant microbiomes are associated with promoting plant health and protecting against plant pathogens (Savary et al. 2019; Pollak and Cordero 2020).  

As biotechnology advances, the impacts of the bioeconomy from nature and on nature will also increase. Humans have manipulated microbes for economic benefit for centuries (for example, fermented beverages and foods), and new innovations in microbe-driven climate change solutions could lead to benefits for the climate, nature and humans.  

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the NNA draft prospectus. ASM and our members look forward to supporting and engaging with the National Nature Assessment. For further information or questions, contact Nicole Zimmerman, Senior Specialist, Federal Affairs at 

Stacey Schultz-Cherry

Stacey L. Schultz-Cherry, Ph.D. 
Chair, ASM Public and Scientific Affairs  

For further information: 

Banerjee, S., van der Heijden, M.G.A. Soil microbiomes and one health. Nat Rev Microbiol 21, 6–20 (2023). 

Big Problems, Microscopic Solutions: ASM Recommendations to Address Climate Change. 2022. Available from: 

Microbes and Climate Change – Science, People & Impacts: Report on an American Academy of Microbiology Virtual Colloquium held on November 5, 2021. Washington (DC): American Society for Microbiology; 2022. Available from: doi: 10.1128/AAMCol.Nov.2021 

Locey KJ, Lennon JT. Scaling laws predict global microbial diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 113(21):5970–5975. 10​.1073/pnas.1521291113. 

Savary S, Willocquet L, Pethybridge SJ, Esker P, McRoberts N, Nelson A. The global burden of pathogens and pests on major food crops. Nat Ecol Evol. 2019 3(3):430–439. 10​.1038/s41559-018-0793-y.  

Pollak S, Cordero OX. Rhizobiome shields plants from infection. Nat Microbiol. 2020 5(8):978–979. 10​.1038/s41564-020-0766-1.  

Paul VG, Mormile MR. A case for the protection of saline and hypersaline environments: a microbiological perspective. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2017 Aug 1;93(8). doi: 10.1093/femsec/fix091. PMID: 28903468. 

Trinh P, Zaneveld JR, Safranek S and Rabinowitz PM (2018) One Health Relationships Between Human, Animal, and Environmental Microbiomes: A Mini-Review. Front. Public Health 6:235. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2018.00235 

Author: ASM Advocacy

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