Wellcome Sanger Institute
Sanger Institute Science Collaboration

Leverhulme Centre for the Holobiont

The Centre will map the associations between microbes and larger organisms, with aims to create a green revolution in agriculture, rescue threatened species, and restore habitats.

The Centre is led by Professor Thomas Bell at Imperial College London, with partners at the Sanger Institute, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Natural History Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, the Rosalind Franklin Institute, the Mary Lyons Centre, ZSL London Zoo, and the Tara Oceans Consortium.

Studying holobionts and their effects

The term ‘holobiont’ refers to a larger organism – such as a human, animal or plant – together with its associated community of microbes. Many of these microbial communities (microbiomes) affect the health of the host organism. Better understanding of holobionts could help to avert declines in biodiversity.

For example, coral bleaching and die-offs are triggered by high temperatures that cause essential microbes to disassociate from the coral host, causing substantial disruption to the local marine ecosystem.

Centre partners will explore the impact of pesticides on the holobiont of bees, and how the skin microbes of some amphibian species may enable them to fight off a deadly fungus.

Supporting a Green Revolution in agriculture

The second main strand of research aims to support a new sustainable green revolution in agriculture. Plants also combine with microbes to form unique holobionts. Mapping them could help researchers manipulate them, creating crops that pull more nutrients in, reducing fertiliser use, or that are better able to resist pathogens, reducing pesticide use.

Sanger people

Photo of Professor Mark Blaxter

Professor Mark Blaxter

Programme Lead for Tree of Life Programme and Senior Group Leader

External Contributors

Photo of Professor Thomas Bell

Professor Thomas Bell

Imperial College London