According to new research conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan, the age of referring to living organisms as individuals is over. Instead, plants and animals should be referred to biomolecular networks instead of autonomous entities. These biomolecular networks include the host as well its associated microbes which the authors of this study refer to as “holobionts” which make up the “hologenome” of this biomolecular network. This new terminology, along with the term “microbiome” helps describe the genetic makeup of the host plus the genome of the species of microorganisms living on and within the host.
In fact, approximately 9 in 10 of the cells that make up plants and animals are bacterial and are not derived from the hosts themselves. Because of the small size of the holobionts compared to the host, they go virtually unnoticed. In their recently published study, Seth R. Bordenstein and Kevin R. Theis discuss 10 new principles surrounding their theory of holobionts and the hologenome. The authors believe that the results of plant and animal experiments are often misinterpreted due to the previous belief of these entities existing as individuals instead of a complex network of multiple entities. They suggest that holobionts and hologenomes become referred to as fundamental units of the biological hierarchy of organization.
According to Dr. Bordenstein, these ideas have been well accepted by the microbiology community but not in others. In addition, the authors feel that the adoption of these ideas will help bring together the fields of plant and animal sciences in order to create more collaborative research efforts and ideas. The authors feel that this new understanding will have profound effects on the ability to understand diseases where genetics and well as environment have been identified as influential factors, such as with autism, autoimmune and metabolic diseases.
I am a postdoctoral researcher with interests in pre-harvest microbial food safety, nonthermal food processing technologies, zoonotic pathogens, and plant-microbe interactions. My current research projects involve the optimization of novel food processing technologies to reduce the number of foodborne pathogens on fresh produce. I am a food geek!