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PLoS Biol. 2015 Dec 4;13(12):e1002311. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002311. eCollection 2015 Dec.

The Hologenome Concept: Helpful or Hollow?

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States of America.
Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America.


With the increasing appreciation for the crucial roles that microbial symbionts play in the development and fitness of plant and animal hosts, there has been a recent push to interpret evolution through the lens of the "hologenome"--the collective genomic content of a host and its microbiome. But how symbionts evolve and, particularly, whether they undergo natural selection to benefit hosts are complex issues that are associated with several misconceptions about evolutionary processes in host-associated microbial communities. Microorganisms can have intimate, ancient, and/or mutualistic associations with hosts without having undergone natural selection to benefit hosts. Likewise, observing host-specific microbial community composition or greater community similarity among more closely related hosts does not imply that symbionts have coevolved with hosts, let alone that they have evolved for the benefit of the host. Although selection at the level of the symbiotic community, or hologenome, occurs in some cases, it should not be accepted as the null hypothesis for explaining features of host-symbiont associations.

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