MaCumBA is a new four-year research project that aims to uncover the untold diversity of marine microbes using cultivation-dependent strategies. This joint venture of 23 partner institutions from 11 EU countries is led by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), and has a budget of over €12 million, of which €9 million is funded by the EC Seventh Framework Programme.
The project officially started August 2012 and held its kick-off meeting in Amsterdam in October. The project has been established on the premise that unknown microorganisms may hold the key to unlocking knowledge that could contribute to the development of new medicines and energy solutions. The study of these unidentified microorganisms could also potentially help mitigate climate change and control disease. The project team aims to develop revolutionary new methods for isolating and screening microorganisms, which may subsequently be grown in a laboratory.
The genetic diversity of marine bacteria is estimated to be one million per milliliter of seawater. Currently, only about ten thousand different bacteria have been identified. This low rate of identification is due largely to scientists being unable to successfully isolate novel microorganisms and grow them in laboratory conditions. Microorganisms are mutually dependent and communicate with each other to grow and survive. Consequently, the vast majority of marine microorganisms have not been cultivated and are often considered as ‘unculturable’. Today, one of the main challenges for microbiologists is to develop strategies to cultivate the uncultured majority of marine microorganisms.