A new book in the BES Ecological Reviews series explores how microbiomes contribute to a range of important functions in their hosts, from nutrition, to behaviour and disease susceptibility. Here, lead editor Dr Rachael Antwis explains more.
Research on the ubiquity and function of host microbiomes is one of the fastest growing areas across ecology, biomedicine and biotechnology. As a result of rapid advancements in sequencing technology, we now know that essentially all complex organisms play host to an array of microbes including bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa and archaea. Moreover, these “microbiomes” are intrinsically involved in supporting the host to function and interact with their environment. Likewise, these communities are altered by a broad range of host traits, as well as numerous environmental factors, which then have implications for host function.
In the newest volume in the British Ecological Society’s Ecological Reviews series, we drew together the latest findings in microbiome research to provide an overview of the field. Importantly, research findings are integrated across different host taxa, including soils, plants, animals, and humans, to provide an up to date understanding of commonalities and differences across the host-microbiome-environment axis.
The book is made up of 10 chapters that cover a diversity of topics. We start things off by outlining the various (and often bewildering) methods that can be used to study host microbiomes, including molecular and culturing tools. We have a chapter looking at the range of host and environmental drivers of microbiome composition, and another dedicated to the role of the microbiome in host nutrition. Another looks at the fascinating role that the microbiome has in mediating host behaviour, from foraging and nutrient acquisition, to movement, reproduction, and even cognition and memory. There is also a chapter on the role of the microbiome in mediating disease, and the important shift that occurred in understanding that not all microbes cause disease – indeed, some are vital for survival. This chapter also discusses the need to redefine Koch’s postulates in the context of polymicrobial infections. We also have a chapter that looks at how microbiomes respond to environmental change – a timely addition in the context of the current state of our global ecosystems – as well as discussing how microbiomes may also hold the key to resilience under these variable conditions. Concurrently, we also look at how we may be able to exploit the vast functional diversity of microbiomes to tackle some of the key challenges to humanity, such as food security, antibiotics, and biofuels, and discuss some of the ethical and policy issues surrounding these approaches.
We hope that this book will serve as a useful primer for newcomers to the field, as well as a resource to those who continue to be active in the area. Moreover, we hope that it will spark new ideas and discussions as we continue to understand this previously invisible collection of organisms that dominate environments and organisms, diligently driving a diverse and fascinating array of processes and functions.
Microbiomes of Soils, Plants and Animals: An Integrated Approach edited by by Rachael E. Antwis (University of Salford), Xavier A. Harrison (University of Exeter), Michael J. Cox (University of Birmingham) was published on 12 March 2020. The book is part of the British Ecological Society’s Ecological Reviews series published with Cambridge University Press, which aims to be a source of ideas and inspiration for ecologists at all career levels. Microbiomes of Soils, Plants and Animals is available for purchase here (£34.99, ISBN 9781108462488). BES members get 25% off all Ecological Reviews titles.