Invisible biodiversity abounds in our towns and cities. Studying the diversity of these microscopic lifeforms in our urban environments could be the next frontier in personal and planetary health.
Scientists are currently studying the links between the microbial communities in the environment, human health and ecosystem resilience in order to understand two ‘megatrends’—chronic, non-infectious diseases are on the rise while humans are spending less time in biodiverse environments. Researchers think these trends are connected because humans are effectively walking ecosystems, supporting trillions of symbiotic microorganisms, and are dependent on a diversity of these microbes to maintain favourable health. Microbes colonise our bodies’ from our diet and from surrounding environments. For example, we are thought to breathe in over a million bacterial cells in every cubic meter of air. Studying the relationship between humans, the environment and the microbiome (the collection of all microorganisms in a given environment) could have important implications for our health, but also for the health the environment.
In this paper we argue that the academic discipline of landscape research (which combines social and natural sciences), working in collaboration with other disciplines and sectors, can make an important contribution towards understanding the complex relationships between the environment, the microbiome and human health. Thought-provoking discussions and ideas are presented, as well as novel perspectives supported by recent technological advancements. Can we design and manage our urban environments to enhance interactions with beneficial microorganisms, and to a state that improves public health? The research is in its infancy, but the potential is immense.