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Complex Microbial Systems Group

Microbes play a critical role in health, agriculture, public safety, alternative energy, manufacturing and the environment. These applications demand reliability of identification, discrimination, and quantification of microbes at a level of speed and accuracy that is unprecedented.

The Microbial Metrology Group develops advanced measurements and standards for exploitation of microbes to promote human health, precision medicine, advanced manufacturing and other industrial applications. The group uses genomic and metagenomic approaches to improve measurements on microbiomes, and is developing reference materials for assessing the sensitivity and specificity of pathogen detection devices.  Advanced methods including microfluidics, predictive modeling of engineered microbes, bioinformatics and state-of-the-art imaging are being applied to critical areas such as combatting antibiotic resistance, food safety, clinical diagnostics, and engineering biology.


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Cool Jobs: Poop investigators

Science News for Students
The work of NIST's Complex Microbial Systems group, which is working to make a reference material to aid in analyzing microbiome DNA, is reviewed.


The NIST microbial metrology program has five distinct programmatic drivers which are focused on critical national needs:

Microbiome Community Measurements: More reliable, dynamic and discriminating measurements are needed to understand and fully exploit these complex microbial systems for human health and industrial applications. Standards and reference data and materials will help to assure the reliance and comparability of measurements made in different locations.

Pathogen Detection and Identification: NIST scientists are partnering with industry and federal stakeholders to develop innovative standards for assessing analytical sensitivity, specificity, and relative performance of state-of-the-art pathogen detection technologies.

Microbial Biofilms: NIST scientists and engineers are developing quantitative measurement approaches to characterize the effects of novel antimicrobial materials and technologies on biofilms. 

Combating the Emergence and Spread of Antimicrobial Resistance: (Completed) To address this current world health crisis, NIST is developing innovative measurement tools for predicting the potential for antibiotic resistance to emerge and to provide a real-time assessment of antimicrobial susceptibility.