Large EU-funded project fostering sustainable food production with microbial innovations

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By Milthon Lujan

Finland.- Starting from 1st November an ambitious project SIMBA (Sustainable innovation of microbiome applications in food system), led by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), begins to research the effect of microbiomes in food chains. With EU funding of 10 million euros, SIMBA will also pilot microbial innovations that lead to increased quality, safety and healthiness of nutrition.


Global growth in population and climate change are major current challenges for food production. The area of arable land is decreasing as the sea level continues to rise in coastal areas, while other regions suffer from drought and pollution. At the same time the growing population needs increasingly more safe and healthy food.

Crop production is heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers that often cause negative environmental effects. Natural populations of fish are threatened by overfishing, while fish farming pollutes and has negative impacts on animal welfare. There is a pressing need for sustainable techniques that leave behind diverse and viable ecosystems for future generations.

Increased sustainability, quality and safety of nutrition

SIMBA’s groundbreaking research focuses on microbiomes and their effects in food chains. During the project, innovative microbiome applications are also being piloted in practice. A microbiome is the community of micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses) living in a certain habitat, such as the soil or sea, or in a human or animal body. Microbiomes are vital for the life and health of both humans and animals, and also essential components of food chains. However, little research is being done on the effects and opportunities of microbiomes in food chains.

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“The general objective of SIMBA is to get a better understanding of microbiomes’ structure and functions, related to marine and terrestrial food chains and to verify the sustainability of microbial innovations of the food system as a whole. Our research will result in increased food production and enhanced food quality and safety”, states principal scientist and the coordinator of SIMBA Anne Pihlanto from Luke.

Potato cultivation in deserts and a new cure for diabetes?

Altogether 23 research institutes and industrial partners all over Europe are participating in SIMBA. During the four years of project implementation, interdisciplinary research will be performed but also commercial microbial applications will be piloted.

The industrial partners in SIMBA will, among other things, will test how potato could be cultivated in deserts. “Harnessing deserts for crop production would be significant in increasing the area of arable land on a global scale. The project’s pilots in deserts also promote SIMBA’s importance beyond Europe, especially in areas where there is a shortage of food”, tells Pihlanto. In addition, a fermented rape product will be tested as a source of human nutrition in the project, as it is expected to function as a cure for type 2 diabetes. Moreover, as a commercial product, new kinds of fish feed, safe and healthy both for fish and humans, are to be developed during the project.


SIMBA supports Finland’s leading position in microbiological research. One of Luke’s research programmes is focused on innovative food systems. Besides Luke, the University of Helsinki – also a partner in SIMBA – is one of the world’s leading institutions in gut microbiology research.

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SIMBA (Sustainable innovation of microbiome applications in food system) is funded by EU Horizon 2020 programme. The project is operational for four years (11/2018-10/2022) and the total EU contribution is €10 m. Luke’s share of EU funding is €1.4 m.

More information
Anne Pihlanto
Principal Scientist
tel. +358295326438

Source: LUKE

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