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Front Microbiol. 2016 Sep 13;7:1444. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.01444. eCollection 2016.

Experimental Evolution as an Underutilized Tool for Studying Beneficial Animal-Microbe Interactions.

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Department of Biology, O. Wayne Rollins Research Center, Emory University Atlanta, GA, USA.


Microorganisms play a significant role in the evolution and functioning of the eukaryotes with which they interact. Much of our understanding of beneficial host-microbe interactions stems from studying already established associations; we often infer the genotypic and environmental conditions that led to the existing host-microbe relationships. However, several outstanding questions remain, including understanding how host and microbial (internal) traits, and ecological and evolutionary (external) processes, influence the origin of beneficial host-microbe associations. Experimental evolution has helped address a range of evolutionary and ecological questions across different model systems; however, it has been greatly underutilized as a tool to study beneficial host-microbe associations. In this review, we suggest ways in which experimental evolution can further our understanding of the proximate and ultimate mechanisms shaping mutualistic interactions between eukaryotic hosts and microbes. By tracking beneficial interactions under defined conditions or evolving novel associations among hosts and microbes with little prior evolutionary interaction, we can link specific genotypes to phenotypes that can be directly measured. Moreover, this approach will help address existing puzzles in beneficial symbiosis research: how symbioses evolve, how symbioses are maintained, and how both host and microbe influence their partner's evolutionary trajectories. By bridging theoretical predictions and empirical tests, experimental evolution provides us with another approach to test hypotheses regarding the evolution of beneficial host-microbe associations.


animal models; experimental evolution; host–microbe interactions; mutualisms; novel symbiosis

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