How are microbes useful 1

Discover beneficial bacteria and fungi for agriculture and the food industry


Wädenswil, September 15, 2014 - As many bacteria and fungi can live in one gram of soil as there are people in the world. These microorganisms can be useful as well as harmful. In our intestines, for example, some of them can have a positive impact on our health. What is the biodiversity of microorganisms and which ones achieve positive effects in the soil or in plants and food? In order to research these questions, Agroscope initiated the “Microbial Biodiversity” research program. The goal: Recognize and promote the benefits of microorganisms in agriculture and the food industry.

Yoghurt and cheese, but also many other foods, are made with the help of certain microorganisms. Others are notorious as harmful agents. These microorganisms are therefore of great importance for the agriculture and food industry. But many of them are still largely unexplored.

On the trail of diversity thanks to genetics

According to the latest estimates, there are millions of microbial species (bacteria and fungi) in the world, which occur in all imaginable habitats and perform central, ecologically important functions: in the soil, in water, in living beings. With the microscope and special culture media it has been possible in the last 200 years to identify and cultivate some of these species. Some of their functions could be described in this way: for example as pathogens in humans, animals and plants, but also as beneficial insects, for example in pest control or as “refiners” of food. Bacteria and fungi have also been discovered in the soil, which play a central role in plant nutrition, among other things. However, only recently and with the advent of genetic diagnostics has it been possible to recognize and describe the incredible diversity of this microbial world. This leads to the realization that at this point in time we do not even know and use the tip of the “microbial iceberg”.

Research for soil, plants and food

Agroscope has recognized the huge potential of microorganisms for both agriculture and the food industry. That is why the Agroscope Research Program (AFP) “Microbial Biodiversity” was launched, which will research the diversity and functions of microorganisms in agricultural and food management systems over the next four years. The research program comprises four subject areas. One area each is allocated to the soil, plant and fermented milk products systems. The fourth subject area focuses on the rapidly developing genetic diagnostics and genomics as well as on the processing and analysis of large amounts of data (bioinformatics).

With this research program, Agroscope is pursuing the goal of using microbial biodiversity for sustainable agriculture and for high-quality, safe agricultural products. Since microorganisms can be both friends and enemies of humans, it is important to forge the right alliances here too.

Address for queries

Jürg E. Frey,
Head of Research Department Diagnostics and Risk Assessment Plant Protection
Agroscope, Institute for Crop Science IPB
Schloss 1, 8820 Wädenswil / Switzerland
[email protected]
+41 (0)58 460 63 32

Elisabeth Eugster
Head of Research Area Animal Food
Agroscope, Institute for Food Science ILM
Schwarzenburgstrasse 161, 3003 Bern / Switzerland
[email protected]
+41 (0)58 464 58 88

Franco Widmer
Head of Research Group Molecular Ecology
Agroscope, Institute for Sustainability Sciences INH
Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich / Switzerland
[email protected]
+41 (0)58 468 73 76

Carole Enz
Media service
Agroscope, Corporate Communication CCA
Schloss 1, 8820 Wädenswil / Switzerland
[email protected]
+41 (0)58 460 62 72