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Trends Microbiol. 2015 Oct;23(10):606-17. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2015.07.009. Epub 2015 Sep 25.

Engineering Microbiomes to Improve Plant and Animal Health.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA; Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biology, University of California, 3401 Watkins Dr., Riverside, CA 92521, USA; Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.


Animal and plant microbiomes encompass diverse microbial communities that colonize every accessible host tissue. These microbiomes enhance host functions, contributing to host health and fitness. A novel approach to improve animal and plant fitness is to artificially select upon microbiomes, thus engineering evolved microbiomes with specific effects on host fitness. We call this engineering approach host-mediated microbiome selection, because this method selects upon microbial communities indirectly through the host and leverages host traits that evolved to influence microbiomes. In essence, host phenotypes are used as probes to gauge and manipulate those microbiome functions that impact host fitness. To facilitate research on host-mediated microbiome engineering, we explain and compare the principal methods to impose artificial selection on microbiomes; discuss advantages and potential challenges of each method; offer a skeptical appraisal of each method in light of these potential challenges; and outline experimental strategies to optimize microbiome engineering. Finally, we develop a predictive framework for microbiome engineering that organizes research around principles of artificial selection, quantitative genetics, and microbial community-ecology.

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