Cover of Microbes and Climate Change- Science, People & Impacts
Climate change is unarguably a critical existential threat to humanity in the 21st century. As the most abundant organisms on Earth, microorganisms make considerable contributions to and are greatly affected by a changing climate. Microbes are major drivers of elemental cycles (such are carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus), important producers and consumers of greenhouse gases, and pertinent pathogens of humans, animals and plants. While the threat of climate change looms large, conversations about the relationship between it and microorganisms are still rare outside of the microbial sciences community. To understand fully how our climate may change in the future, it is important to learn how a changing climate will impact microbes and their relationships with humans and their environment, as well as incorporate microbial processes into climate models.

This report is based on the deliberations of experts who participated in a colloquium on Nov. 5, 2021 organized by the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group and think tank within the American Society for Microbiology. These experts came from diverse disciplines and sectors and provided multifaceted perspectives and insights. Over the course of the discussion, the group made several major recommendations for academic, policy, and market partners to drive innovation for microbe-driven climate change solutions that support human well-being. 
Research Recommendations 
  • Emphasize interdisciplinary research focused on understanding how microbial activities and metabolic flux alter as climate, precipitation, and temperatures change globally. This will be important for terrestrial, urban, and aquatic microbes that impact global elemental cycles as well as for pathogens that impact human and animal health. 

  • Provide guidance for experimental design and data collection for studying microbial communities that allows for data comparison across diverse and global ecosystems. 

  • Incorporate existing data about microbial diversity and activity on consuming and producing greenhouse gases into Earth-climate models to improve the current and predictive performance of models. 

  • Outline specific scientific criteria to evaluate new innovations that allow the scientific community to assess the scientific and societal impacts of these innovations.  

Policy and Regulation Considerations 
  • Increase research investments to generate knowledge and awareness of the contribution of microbes to the generation and consumption of greenhouse gases; incorporate these findings into evidence-based policy and regulatory strategies to address climate change. 
  • Deploy increased surveillance and detection of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases in animals and humans, including through next generation sequencing technologies, and incorporate a One Health approach to addressing climate changes’ effects on humans, animals, and our environment. 

  • Enact policies that facilitate public private partnerships between diverse scientists, entrepreneurs and commercial entities, regulatory and policy makers, and other stakeholders to translate research discoveries into scalable microbial innovations. 

  • Develop policies that incentivize innovation of microbe-facilitated processes to support renewable energy generation and a robust bioeconomy. 

Societal Recommendations
  • Engage and clearly communicate with the general public in jargon-free and relatable ways to improve comprehension of how microbes participate in the causes and effects of climate change.
  • Highlight and prioritize addressing inequitable microbial risk of vulnerable communities at greater risk of infectious disease exposure, altered microbiota, and food insecurity caused by climate change.  



Contact Information

Academy Staff, academy@asmusa.org