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UNLOCKing microbial potential: Team play is key

The mission of UNLOCK is to unlock new microbial potential. Why and – more importantly – how do we want to accomplish this? In a series of blogs, we compare our mission with team play in sports: Why would you only focus on individual star players? In this first part, we explain why team play is key. Let’s discover new talents and make a dream team! 

By the UNLOCK team / May 23, 2022


Technical difficulty
There are many different microbes living on planet earth, and each has its own talent. Some microbes inhabit our bodies and contribute to our health. Other microbes contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases or the prevention thereof. All in all, microbes are everywhere. To give just one example, the abundance of microbes in the food system is illustrated in Figure 11. It is estimated that, so far, researchers have only been able to study 1% of the total microbial potential available in nature.2 This means that there’s still a lot of natural talent to be discovered and explored.

Team play is key

Until now, researchers have focused primarily on the individual talent of just a small group of microbes. Moreover, these microbes were studied in isolation, in so-called “pure cultures”. It’s like focusing only on the star player, but forgetting about the rest of the soccer team. However, even the best soccer players are nothing without the support of their team. Similarly, most microbes are natural team players, too. In UNLOCK, therefore, we believe that unlocking the remaining 99% of total microbial potential should be done by looking at the whole microbial community or team.

The key to the right team

What kind of microbial talents you’re searching for, depends on the goal of the team. A soccer coach is looking for different types of talents than the coach of a cycling team. In the same way, a scientist aiming to find a microbial team to improve gut health searches for different microbes than a scientist looking for a microbial team meant to clean wastewater. The approach, however, can be similar.

Infographic illustrating the presence of microbiomes in our food system. Source: Microbiome Support
Figure 1. Infographic illustrating the presence of microbiomes in our food system. Source: Microbiome Support

Ways to identify new talents

The mission of UNLOCK is to identify and use as many microbial talents as possible. With the newly identified talents, we will be able to compose our dream teams of interest. In the following series of blogs, we explain different ways to do this. We will illustrate this by taking examples from sports. Each aspect of the search for a dream team can be linked to our four research platforms: These blog posts will be posted in the coming weeks. The final blog will explain what we want to achieve with the newly discovered talents and their teams. Let’s UNLOCK Microbial Potential Together! #TeamPlayIsKey #UNLOCKMicrobialPotential


  1. Figure 1 was created by Microbiome Support and is available in different languages on their website.
  2. Jörg Overmann, Birte Abt, and Johannes Sikorski. Present and Future of Culturing Bacteria in Annual Review of Microbiology (2017), 71:711–30

You can read more about our mission under Explore.

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