The change we are trying to bring about....
Since 2007, the majority of the world's population lives in cities. Developed nations are the most urban while developing nations are the most rapidly urbanising. Humans are losing contact with biodiversity and the natural world. At the same time, immune-related health disorders such as allergies, auto-immune and chronic inflammatory diseases are multiplying. Medical researchers now believe these important trends are linked.
Here at the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative we seek to understand and recreate the immune-boosting power of high quality, biodiverse green spaces in our cities to maximise population health benefits, bring significant savings to health budgets, while delivering gains for biodiversity.
Our initiative is science led and community focused with a common goal to improve the health giving nature of urban green space. We are scientists, local government and public health professionals working together to improve the health of our populations.
Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative Welcomes You and Your Organisation
Join us in building a world with healthy urban green spaces
What is a Healthy Urban Microbiome?
In simple terms, a healthy microbiome is a diverse and balanced community of microbial organisms (or microbes) and their associated genetic material and by-products, in which the beneficial and harmless members are able to keep the potentially disease-causing microbes (or pathogens) in check. Microbes and their by-products can also help trigger and regulate the various immune processes that either defend against pathogens, or help us tolerate normally harmless things in our air, food, or our own body.
New knowledge is emerging that biodiverse microbiomes from the environment (associated with soil and plants) can help contribute to the healthy airway, gut and skin microbiomes required to support our everyday health and wellbeing. In urban environments, these diverse microbiomes are found in the same green spaces where local populations go to exercise, recreate, garden and socialize.
A prescription for global urban health
a maturing microbiome science
The National Institutes of Health established the Human Microbiome Project (HMP1) in 2007, which was succeeded by the Integrative Human Microbiome Project (iHMP) in 2013. The relationship between allergies and urban living has been recognized for over a century but the underlying causes for the higher rates of immunological diseases in urban areas are just starting to be revealed. Immunological diseases including allergies, asthma, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, multiple sclerosis, and even diseases not traditionally considered immunological (eg obesity and depression) are increasingly being linked to the bacteria that inhabit the human body.
our hidden biodiversity problem
We know that biodiversity underpins the existence of healthy microbiomes. Yet we still know very little about the microbiomes in urban green spaces. We do know that microbiomes found in urban green spaces are more diverse than those found elsewhere in the built environment. Much is known about how soil microbiota interact with plants in ecological or agricultural settings, but not in urban environments. We also know that it is possible to restore microbiomes from a degraded or artificial state to one that represents wild, native areas. Despite the potential for positive health impact, the microbiomes in urban green spaces remain poorly studied.
Urban Green Space
population health and wellbeing
Functional ecosystems provide numerous benefits to humans in the form of ecosystem services, including food provisioning, climate regulation, and support of nutrient cycles, along with many well-established health benefits. There is similarly strong evidence showing that interaction with nature can result in a variety of psychological and physical health benefits. Green space health benefits are diverse and range from improved cognitive function to reduced obesity and improved birth weights. These benefits appear to be most significant for marginalised groups.
Biodivese green spaces
prescription for global urban health
The “biodiversity” and “old friends” hypotheses are adaptations of the “hygiene” hypothesis – all of which argue that immunological diseases are the result of a disconnect between contemporary humans and the diverse microbial world in which human life has evolved. If the maturing field of microbiome science is paired with strong collaborations among governments, researchers, and community groups, then this field could hold the potential to stem the increase in chronic diseases projected to follow the rapid urbanization trend worldwide.
Population Health Science, Lead
Professor Philip Weinstein
Healthy ecosystems provide a variety of ecosystem services to humans, most obviously provisioning services (food, water, fuel, and shelter), but also regulating services (climate control, disease suppression) and cultural services (recreation and wellbeing). Biodiversity is fundamental to maintaining ecosystem functionality and resilience, and when biodiversity is adversely affected by human activities such as urbanisation, agriculture, and CO2 emission, ecosystem services can fail. Directly or indirectly, the maintenance of biodiversity can prevent the emergence and re-emergence of a variety of public health problems that include exposure to toxins, vector borne diseases, and lifestyle diseases.
Dr Chris Skelly, International Programme Director
Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative