Animal-Microbial Evolutionary Ecology

No animal has evolved independently of symbiotic microbes. Instead, each is densely populated by, and has coevolved with, suites of microbes whose genomes have profoundly affected its biology (1-5). Certainly some of the microbes associated with animals’ bodies are pathogenic, but many are beneficial. For example, symbiotic microbes are critical to animal nutrition and defense, and they serve as important catalysts for the effective development of animal tissues and neural connections. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that symbiotic microbes can contribute to animal behavior (6,7). As a paradigm-shifting consequence, animals are beginning to be viewed as metaorganisms, or holobionts — consortia of animal hosts and their core symbiotic microbes and viruses — rather than as isolated entities (1-4). The hologenome model of evolution — heralded as the new frontier of animal biology — posits that interactions between hosts and their microbionts affect the fitness of the holobiont, genetic variation among holobionts can be enhanced by the incorporation of new microbionts, even within the lifetime of a host, and microbionts can be transmitted across generations of hosts with fidelity (3). My broad research objective is to use postulated microbially-mediated chemical signaling systems of animals to evaluate the hologenome model of evolution. My current specific research objectives are discussed on the research page.

1. Bosch, T.C.G. & McFall-Ngai, M.J. 2011. Metaorganisms as the new frontier. Zoology 114, 185-190.

2. Savinov, A. 2011. Autocenosis and democenosis as individual- and population-level ecological categories in terms of symbiogenesis and systems approach. Russian J Ecol 42, 179-185.

3. Zilber-Rosenberg, I. & Rosenberg, E. 2008. Role of microorganisms in the evolution of animals and plants: the hologenome theory of evolution. FEMS Microbiol Rev 32, 723-735.

4. Brucker, R.M. & Bordenstein, S.R. 2013. The capacious hologenome. Zoology 116, 260-261.

5. Mcfall-Ngai, M.J. et al. 2013. Animals in a bacterial world, a new imperative for the life sciences. PNAS 110, 3229-3236.

6. Ezenwa, V.O. et al. 2012. Animal behavior and the microbiome. Science 338, 198-199.

7. Archie, E.A. & Theis, K.R. 2011. Animal behaviour meets microbial ecology. Anim Behav 82, 425-436.

For further discussion of the hologenome model of evolution, see the well-written blogs of Richard Jefferson (Cambia) and Seth Bordenstein (Vanderbilt University).

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