Symbiosis as the way of eukaryotic life: the dependent co-origination of the body

J Biosci. 2014 Apr;39(2):201-9. doi: 10.1007/s12038-013-9343-6.

Abstract

Molecular analyses of symbiotic relationships are challenging our biological definitions of individuality and supplanting them with a new notion of normal part-whole relationships. This new notion is that of a 'holobiont', a consortium of organisms that becomes a functionally integrated 'whole'. This holobiont includes the zoological organism (the 'animal') as well as its persistent microbial symbionts. This new individuality is seen on anatomical and physiological levels, where a diversity of symbionts form a new 'organ system' within the zoological organism and become integrated into its metabolism and development. Moreover, as in normal development, there are reciprocal interactions between the 'host' organism and its symbionts that alter gene expression in both sets of cells. The immune system, instead of being seen as functioning solely to keep microbes out of the body, is also found to develop, in part, in dialogue with symbionts. Moreover, the immune system is actively involved in the colonization of the zoological organism, functioning as a mechanism for integrating microbes into the animal-cell community. Symbionts have also been found to constitute a second mode of genetic inheritance, providing selectable genetic variation for natural selection. We develop, grow and evolve as multi-genomic consortia/teams/ecosystems.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Microbiota / immunology
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Symbiosis*