Farming and environment


Because microbes are an integral part of life on Earth they are linked to the cultivation and farming of all the food that we eat. Microbes can help maintain healthy crops and pastures for grazing by processing soil substrates to ensure the best nutrients are available for plant growth. Like humans, livestock animals depend on a healthy gut.

However, plants and animals are also subject to threats from pathogenic or harmful microbes. Not only can this lead to losses to farmers and threats to food security, microbes can also cause devastation of our natural resources, affecting wildlife populations, forests and marine life.

Farm Animal Diseases

Animals, like humans can become infected with microbes and suffer from a wide variety of diseases. As well as an important animal welfare issue, this can also affect the supply of meat and milk, impacting on the livelihoods of farmers and the availability of affordable, nutritious food for people.

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Crop Diseases

Microbes can cause plant diseases too and these can spread very quickly when they are grown as crops. These diseases can affect yields for farmers but can also cause problems for food safety. Crops can be affected by pests such as beetles or aphids and these can also act as vectors that spread pathogenic microbes

Soil and compost

Soil is a fundamental component of the planet, providing physical, chemical and biological support for plants, and therefore, all of the food we eat. Soils are often defined by their mineral type (clay, silt, sand and stones), as well as the amount of organic matter, measured as total carbon content, and other chemical nutrients like phosphorus.

The humus component of soil consists of a mixture of plant material (roots, leaves etc.), animal droppings and microbes. The microbial community of soil is the most diverse and amongst the highest density of any habitat (including animals).

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Climate change

Climate change is one of the major issues in today’s world, leading to elevated air and water temperatures globally and extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and wildfires. These changes can disrupt microbial communities within ecosystems, by altering their quantity, function and type, and this could have a major impact on the production and safety of food.

Soil and marine microbes also play a vital role in maintaining the balance of greenhouse gas turnover, both emitting and absorbing gases. Some microbes contribute to the problem, including the methanogens within the digestive tracts of cattle and sheep that produce methane. Improving our understanding of these processes can help assess future risks and even allow us to use microbes to provide solutions to some of the challenges we face.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are used to slow down or stop bacteria from growing but bacteria can become resistant to these drugs and some infections can no longer be treated. Bacteria that have become resistant to many antibiotics are sometimes known as "superbugs". Resistance has accelerated due to overuse or mis-use of antibiotics and this is a major threat to global health. Antibiotics can be used to treat infected animals as well as humans and resistant bacteria can be spread to humans. It is very important that antibiotics are used carefully on farms and only when needed to limit the development of resistance.

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