Finding Needles in Haystacks and Inferring Their Function: Challenges and Successes in Beneficial Symbiosis Research

mSystems. 2021 Apr 6;6(2):e00243-21. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00243-21.


Symbioses between hosts and beneficial microbes are key drivers of biological innovation and diversity. While a range of systems have emerged that provide foundational insights into how symbioses function and evolve, we still have a limited understanding of the vast diversity of organisms that engage in such interactions. Recent advances in molecular tools, theory, and interdisciplinary approaches now permit researchers to expand our knowledge and to press forward the frontiers of symbiosis research. As described in a recent issue of mSystems, Myers and colleagues (K. N. Myers, D. Conn, and A. M. V. Brown, mSystems, 6:e01048-20, 2021, conducted a genome skimming approach to understand the role of obligate beneficial symbionts in plant-parasitic dagger nematodes. Nematodes are extraordinarily abundant and key players in ecosystem function and health. However, they are difficult to harness in the lab. The approach used by Myers et al. ameliorates these challenges to illustrate a relatively complete picture of a poorly understood beneficial symbiosis.

Keywords: agricultural pest; bacteria; evolution; genome; nematodes; nutrition; symbiosis.