The evolution of the host microbiome as an ecosystem on a leash

Nature. 2017 Aug 2;548(7665):43-51. doi: 10.1038/nature23292.


The human body carries vast communities of microbes that provide many benefits. Our microbiome is complex and challenging to understand, but evolutionary theory provides a universal framework with which to analyse its biology and health impacts. Here we argue that to understand a given microbiome feature, such as colonization resistance, host nutrition or immune development, we must consider how hosts and symbionts evolve. Symbionts commonly evolve to compete within the host ecosystem, while hosts evolve to keep the ecosystem on a leash. We suggest that the health benefits of the microbiome should be understood, and studied, as an interplay between microbial competition and host control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Microbial Interactions / drug effects
  • Microbial Interactions / immunology
  • Microbial Interactions / physiology*
  • Microbiota / drug effects
  • Microbiota / immunology
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Species Specificity
  • Symbiosis / drug effects
  • Symbiosis / immunology
  • Symbiosis / physiology*