As the world's microbial diversity is decimated by antibiotics, processed food, filtered water and other wonders of modern life, researchers are proposing the creation of a global microbiota vault to protect the long-term health of humanity.

Human microbiota, a community of trillions of microorganisms that include bacteria, fungi and viruses, perform critical health functions in the human body, from facilitating digestion to bolstering the immune system. Scientists believe the loss of microbial diversity has already had serious health consequences — and could soon lead to a crisis. Rutgers University researchers are proposing that a last-resort vault be built to store "good" germs that might soon disappear from the planet.

"The decline in microbial diversity has been dramatic in the last 50 to 70 years, decreasing with each new generation," said Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, the lead author of the proposal and a professor in the Rutgers Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. "But we can't wait another 70 years. This is a threat to us right now. Asthma, celiac disease, allergies, Type 1 diabetes and autism are skyrocketing. And the loss of microbial diversity is likely an underlying factor. The question is: Can we restore them?"