How holobionts get sick-toward a unifying scheme of disease

Microbiome. 2017 Jun 24;5(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0281-7.


All humans, animals, and plants are holobionts. Holobionts comprise the host and a myriad of interacting microorganisms-the microbiota. The hologenome encompasses the genome of the host plus the composite of all microbial genomes (the microbiome). In health, there is a fine-tuned and resilient equilibrium within the members of the microbiota and between them and the host. This relative stability is maintained by a high level of microbial diversity, a delicate bio-geographic distribution of microorganisms, and a sophisticated and intricate molecular crosstalk among the multiple components of the holobiont. Pathobionts are temporarily benign microbes with the potential, under modified ecosystem conditions, to become key players in disease. Pathobionts may be endogenous, living for prolonged periods of time inside or on the host, or exogenous, invading the host during opportunistic situations. In both cases, the end result is the transformation of the beneficial microbiome into a health-perturbing pathobiome. We hypothesize that probably all diseases of holobionts, acute or chronic, infectious or non-infectious, and regional or systemic, are characterized by a perturbation of the healthy microbiome into a diseased pathobiome.

Keywords: Disease; Microbiome; Microbiota; Pathobiome; Pathobiont.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Disease*
  • Genome
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Plants
  • Symbiosis

Grant support