Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Round Table Discussion on the Hologenome - Google+

The Bordenstein Lab is about to host a round table discussion on the hologenome. I will live blog it as well as host one of the live feed videos here. The original link to the Google + page, where we will announce future updates and discussions.

Only 12 min before the life feed begins on the hologenome.

10 am Time to start!!!

@ 10:0 we have 8 participants so far and 10 viewers... if you can't join the hangout, you can still participate in the chat

@ 10:09, it begins!

@ 10:10 What, who, and  why of the hologenome. Some of the terms are supper organism, holobiont. The idea that the hologenome is still controversial and is an important discussion to have so all areas of biological sciences.

@ 10:12 Is the holobiont/hologenome jargon?
is it any different then any other organism-interaction?

Mark Martin
10:18 AM
Thought: microbiome is clearly coevolved and specific. Winnowing from much more complex environmental community. Two sides of one coin.

@ 10:19 is the host really any different than a single additional organism that is part of a continuum?

@ 10:21 What is the experiment needed to validate or deny the hologenome?

@ 10:27 what does evolution see? are the interactions negative or positive or are the windows of evolution and selection not able to fit within the trajectory of microbiome-host interaction?

@ 10:34 perhaps functional genes are perhaps important role in who and what are present as a hologenome.

@10:41 Bordenstomics! the hologenome needs more metaomics to be able to answer some of these questions.

@ 10:47 is it necessary to call the microbes anything different then the environment? or is it because there is a biotic factor of the microbiome that separates it from the abiotic factors?

@ 10:50 how is a tapeworm different then the microbiome?

@ 10:54 is the hologenome a useful phrase for the body of knowledge we have now? The microbes are not individual players but interactions that compose the species that we describe.

@ 11:01 we are wrapping up the discussion. It will be saved and uploaded to youtube.

Overall the discussion went really well. I didn't get a chance to copy in some of the chatroom posts (not fully caffeinated yet). But there were some really great discussion point brought up overall. Including the fact that a species and its microbiome are integrated into eachothers' success.

To summarize, the biggest component of the hologenome discussion was how should we define the hologenome relative to our existing concepts of evolution, species, ecology, and microbial ecology. Is there a distinction between the microbiome in a host organism as part of the host, or is the host just part of the microbial community? Clearly the environment plays a role in establishing the taxonomic representation of the microbiome but is it limited by the host? How is it truly different than any-other organism-organism interaction? The field of clearly needs to conduct more scientific investigations of the hologenome concept before we can address these issues. There was a general consensus that the term 'holobiont' does describe the unit of selection, but how far that extends beyond microbe-host interactions is still controversial.

The hangout consisted of mostly pro-holobiont supporters but David Baltrus was a wonderful foil for counterpoints to the hologenome. Arguments that the hologenome could extend to parasites like tapeworms, pathogens, and domesticated plants, where would they fit into the definition? These are great points that are an important dialogue to the discussion. He laid out a few additional components in a great blog post about ecological epistasis.

In the end, we all agreed that the round table could go for a round two. In the mean time, watch out for falling coconuts, you don't want to end up a statistic. 


  1. Great discussion! I really love this area of biology. I'm an undergraduate molecular biology student and the UK, and I never really considered doing a PhD until I immersed myself in hologenome research papers a few weeks ago. Problem is, I really can't get my head around the American graduate school system at all. Is there a graduate course I can apply for at Vanderbilt that would allow me to get involved in this research? Sorry to incompetent, but the system is so different to ours and university websites tend to be universally useless...

    1. Hi Alex,
      Thanks for your interest. I'm glad that the hologenome has encouraged you to pursue research. There are other labs that work on microbiomes throughout the world, each of them could also be considered hologenome labs, although they may not yet me using the terminology. Vanderbilt provides several options for applying to graduate school PhD programs, direct admit to a particular department or through the umbrella program called IGP. It is best to look into different universities and learn about each one's means of applying, and how they might handle international students. More importantly, if there is a particular lab that you are interested in, you can always inquire with the lead of the lab, if they are recruiting students. Then proceed from there. If you have the opportunity to get some research experience as an undergrad, that will always help with your application to grad school. It also will give you a chance to see if you would really like to spend 3-6 years working on another degree. Feel free to ask any additional questions you might have about the process. I'm to give you my perspective.

  2. Also, no bias against other universities than Vanderbilt. I just mentioned Vanderbilt because it has the biggest hologenome research lab that I know of.