Getting the hologenome concept right: An eco-evolutionary framework for hosts and their microbiomes
Given the recently appreciated complexity of symbioses among hosts and their microbes, significant rethinking in biology is occurring today. Scientists and philosophers are asking questions at new biological levels of hierarchical organization – What is a holobiont and hologenome? When should this vocabulary and associated concepts apply? Are these points of view a null hypothesis for host-microbe systems or limited to a certain spectrum of symbiotic interactions such as host-microbial coevolution? Legitimate questions, advancements and revisions are warranted at this nascent stage of the field. However, a productive and meaningful discourse can only commence when skeptics and proponents alike use the same definitions and constructs. For instance, critiquing the hologenome concept is not synonymous with critiquing coevolution, and arguing that an entity is not necessarily the primary unit of selection is not synonymous with arguing that it is not a unit of selection in general. Here, we succinctly deconstruct and clarify these recent misconceptions. Holobionts (hosts and their microbes) and hologenomes (all genomes of the holobiont) are multipartite entities that result from ecological, evolutionary and genetic processes. They are not restricted to one special process but constitute a wider vocabulary and framework for host biology in light of the microbiome. We invite the community to consider these new perspectives in biology.