Biodiversity | Environmental Microbiomes | Improving Population Health
Natural immunity: Biodiversity loss and inflammatory diseases are two global megatrends that might be related
Key Idea. The global decline in biodiversity may be causing the rise of inflammatory diseases, which presents a serious challenge for public health.
Abstract. We are witnessing two global and deeply worrying trends that, at first glance, seem unrelated. The first trend is the ongoing decline in biodiversity, which is caused by human actions. It could well become the sixth mass extinction of animal and plant species on Earth, comparable in magnitude with the fifth mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. The second trend is a rapid increase in chronic diseases that are associated with inflammation, especially in developed countries...
von Hertzen, L., Hanski, I. & Haahtela, T. (2011). Natural immunity: Biodiversity loss and inflammatory diseases are two global megatrends that might be related. EMBO reports, 12, 1089-1093.
Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: an ecosystem service essential to health
Key Idea. Biodiversity may regulate the human immune system by exposing humans to 'microbial old friends', which can be viewed as new ecosystem service.
Abstract. Epidemiological studies suggest that living close to the natural environment is associated with long-term health benefits including reduced death rates, reduced cardiovascular disease, and reduced psychiatric problems. This is often attributed to psychological mechanisms, boosted by exercise, social interactions, and sunlight. Compared with urban environments, exposure to green spaces does indeed trigger rapid psychological, physiological, and endocrinological effects. However, there is little evidence that these rapid transient effects cause long-term health benefits or even that they are a specific property of natural environments...
Rook, G. (2013). Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: an ecosystem service essential to health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110, 18360-18367.
Biodiverse green spaces: a prescription for global urban health
Key Idea. Microbiome science now suggests that biodiverse urban green space could be used as a public health intervention, and HUMI appears to be the first (only?) initiative attempting to trial this intervention.
Abstract. The world is urbanizing and chronic health conditions associated with urban living are on the rise. There is mounting evidence that people with a diverse microbiome (bacteria that inhabit the human body) or who interact with green spaces enjoy better health. However, studies have yet to directly examine how biodiverse urban green spaces (BUGS) might modify the human microbiome and reduce chronic disease. Here we highlight the potential for green spaces to improve health by exposing people to environmental microorganisms that diversify human microbiomes and help regulate immune function....
Flies, E.J., Skelly, C., Negi, S.S., Prabhakaran, P., Liu, Q., Liu, K., Golizen, F., Lease, C., Weinstein, P. (2017). Biodiverse green spaces: a prescription for global urban health. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15, 510-516.
Urban habitat restoration provides a human health benefit through microbiome rewilding: the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis
Key Idea. Building evidence for the potential of microbiome rewilding will motivate health, urban and restoration ecology practitioners to collaborate and achieve co‐benefits in the future.
Abstract. Restoration aims to return ecosystem services, including the human health benefits of exposure to green space. The loss of such exposure with urbanization and industrialization has arguably contributed to an increase in human immune dysregulation. The Biodiversity and Old Friends hypotheses have described the possible mechanisms of this relationship, and suggest that reduced exposure to diverse, beneficial microorganisms can result in negative health consequences. However, it is unclear whether restoration of biodiverse habitat can reverse this effect, and what role the environmental microbiome might have in such recovery. Here, we propose the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis...
Mills, J.G., Weinstein, P., Gellie, N.J.C., Weyrich, L.S., Lowe, A.J. & Breed, M.F. (2017). Urban habitat restoration provides a human health benefit through microbiome rewilding: the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis. Restoration Ecology, 25, 866-872.
Cities, biodiversity and health: we need healthy urban microbiome initiatives. Cities & Health
Key Idea. We need healthy urban microbiome initiatives in all cities, if we are to have healthy resilient urban populations in the future.
Abstract. Current evidence suggests that biodiverse environmental microbiomes contribute positively to human health and could account for known associations between urban green space and improved health. We summarise the state of knowledge that could inform the development of healthy urban microbiome initiatives (HUMI) to re-connect urban populations to biodiverse microbial communities.
Flies, E.J.. Skelly, C., Lovell, R., Breed, M., Phillips, D., Weinstein, P. (2018). Cities, biodiversity and health: we need healthy urban microbiome initiatives. Cities & Health. 2, 2, 143-150.
Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health
Key Idea. Microbiome-inspired green infrastructure may be a better way to conceptualise the creation of healthy urban environments in the future.
Abstract. Principles of ecology apply at myriad scales, including within the human body and the intertwined macro and microscopic ecosystems that we depend upon for survival. The conceptual principles of dysbiosis (‘life in distress’) also apply to different realms of life—our microbiome, the macro environment and the socioeconomic domain. Viewing the human body as a holobiont—a host plus billions of microbial organisms working symbiotically to form a functioning ecological unit—has the potential to enhance personal and planetary health. We discuss this ecological perspective in our paper. We also discuss the proposals to rewild the microbiome, innovative microbiome-inspired green infrastructure (MIGI) and the basis of prescribing ‘doses of nature’. Particular emphasis is given to MIGI—a collective term for the design and management of innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions...
Robinson, J. M., Mills, J. G., and Breed, M. F. (2018). Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health. Challenges. 9(2), 40.
Relating urban biodiversity to human health with the ‘holobiont’ concept
Key Idea. Microbiome science now suggests that humans are indeed true holobionts, or microbiota-mediated life-forms, and this requires us to reconsider the importance of biodiversity as a critical health-giving exposure.
Abstract. A relatively unaccounted ecosystem service from biodiversity is the benefit to human health via symbiotic microbiota from our environment. This benefit occurs because humans evolved alongside microbes and have been constantly exposed to diverse microbiota. Plants and animals, including humans, are organised as a host with symbiotic microbiota, whose collective genome and life history form a single holobiont. As such, there are interdependencies between biodiversity, holobionts, and public health which lead us to argue that human health outcomes could be improved by increasing contact with biodiversity in an urban context. We propose that humans, like all holobionts, likely require a diverse microbial habitat to appropriate resources for living healthy, long lives...
Mills JG et al. (2019). Relating urban biodiversity to human health with the ‘holobiont’ concept. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10.
Green Prescriptions and Their Co-Benefits: Integrative Strategies for Public and Environmental Health
Key Idea. Microbiome science is redefining how green prescriptions will contribute to both reactive (health care) and proactive (health promoting) public health solutions, whilst enhancing the natural environment, in the future.
Abstract. There is a growing recognition of the links between the increasing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, environmental concerns including biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and socioecological issues such as ecological (in)justice. This has encouraged a number of recent calls for the development of integrative approaches aimed at addressing these issues—also known as nature-based solutions. An example of an emerging nature-based solution is a ‘green prescription’, broadly defined as a nature-based health intervention. Green prescriptions are typically designed for patients with a defined need and they have the potential to supplement orthodox medical treatments, particularly those aimed at addressing noncommunicable diseases. It is also thought that green prescriptions could bring about significant environmental, economic, and social co-benefits...
Robinson, J. M., and Breed, M. F. (2019). Green Prescriptions and Their Co-Benefits: Integrative Strategies for Public and Environmental Health. Challenges. 10(1), 9.
The potential of genomics for restoring ecosystems and biodiversity
Key Idea. Essential future global ecosystem restoration efforts will be pushed forward by population genomics, meta-omics and genome editing creating a need for new regulatory and ethical frameworks.
Abstract. Billions of hectares of natural ecosystems have been degraded through human actions. The global community has agreed on targets to halt and reverse these declines, and the restoration sector faces the important but arduous task of
implementing programmes to meet these objectives. Existing and emerging genomics tools offer the potential to improve the odds of achieving these targets. These tools include population genomics that can improve seed sourcing, meta-omics that can improve assessment and monitoring of restoration outcomes,
and genome editing that can generate novel genotypes for restoring challenging environments. We identify barriers to adopting these tools in a restoration context and emphasize that regulatory and ethical frameworks are required to guide their use.
Martin F. Breed et al. (2019) The potential of genomics for restoring ecosystems and biodiversity. Nature Reviews Genetics, 12 July 2019.