Symbiosis in the microbial world: from ecology to genome evolution

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Biology Open, 2018, 7 (2)
Issue Date:
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© 2018. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd. The concept of symbiosis – defined in 1879 by de Bary as ‘the living together of unlike organisms’ – has a rich and convoluted history in biology. In part, because it questioned the concept of the individual, symbiosis fell largely outside mainstream science and has traditionally received less attention than other research disciplines. This is gradually changing. In nature organisms do not live in isolation but rather interact with, and are impacted by, diverse beings throughout their life histories. Symbiosis is now recognized as a central driver of evolution across the entire tree of life, including, for example, bacterial endosymbionts that provide insects with vital nutrients and the mitochondria that power our own cells. Symbioses between microbes and their multicellular hosts also underpin the ecological success of some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, including hydrothermal vents and coral reefs. In November 2017, scientists working in fields spanning the life sciences came together at a Company of Biologists’ workshop to discuss the origin, maintenance, and long-term implications of symbiosis from the complementary perspectives of cell biology, ecology, evolution and genomics, taking into account both model and non-model organisms. Here, we provide a brief synthesis of the fruitful discussions that transpired.
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