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A community perspective on the concept of marine holobionts: Current status, challenges, and future directions

Dittami, SM and Arboleda, E and Auguet, JC and Bigalke, A and Briand, E and Cárdenas, P and Cardini, U and Decelle, J and Engelen, AH and Eveillard, D and Gachon, CMM and Griffiths, SM and Harder, T and Kayal, E and Kazamia, E and Lallier, FH and Medina, M and Marzinelli, EM and Morganti, TM and Pons, LN and Prado, S and Pintado, J and Saha, M and Selosse, MA and Skillings, D and Stock, W and Sunagawa, S and Toulza, E and Vorobev, A and Leblanc, C and Not, F (2021) A community perspective on the concept of marine holobionts: Current status, challenges, and future directions. PeerJ, 9. ISSN 2167-8359


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Host-microbe interactions play crucial roles in marine ecosystems. However, we still have very little understanding of the mechanisms that govern these relationships, the evolutionary processes that shape them, and their ecological consequences. The holobiont concept is a renewed paradigm in biology that can help to describe and understand these complex systems. It posits that a host and its associated microbiota with which it interacts, form a holobiont, and have to be studied together as a coherent biological and functional unit to understand its biology, ecology, and evolution. Here we discuss critical concepts and opportunities in marine holobiont research and identify key challenges in the field. We highlight the potential economic, sociological, and environmental impacts of the holobiont concept in marine biological, evolutionary, and environmental sciences. Given the connectivity and the unexplored biodiversity specific to marine ecosystems, a deeper understanding of such complex systems requires further technological and conceptual advances, e.g., the development of controlled experimental model systems for holobionts from all major lineages and the modeling of (info)chemical-mediated interactions between organisms. Here we propose that one significant challenge is to bridge cross-disciplinary research on tractable model systems in order to address key ecological and evolutionary questions. This first step is crucial to decipher the main drivers of the dynamics and evolution of holobionts and to account for the holobiont concept in applied areas, such as the conservation, management, and exploitation of marine ecosystems and resources, where practical solutions to predict and mitigate the impact of human activities are more important than ever.

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