Perspectives on Metaorganisms

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All Life is Microbial

About two decades ago, the technological revolution of high-throughput sequencing made the previously invisible finally visible and uncovered a whole new biological world: Researchers began to realize that living beings only exist in functional symbioses with a multitude of microorganisms – bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that colonize the bodies of their multicellular hosts. All animals and plants including humans are therefore metaorganisms and consequently all life is microbial. This discovery rendered a whole set of concepts and disciplines obsolete and paved the way for a new interpretation of the biological world: The metaorganism concept that defines all living beings as ecosystems consisting of a multicellular host and colonizing microorganisms living in an on it.

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Dangers to the Microbiome

The advent of western lifestyles in the twentieth century gave rise to a broad range of previously rare or even unknown diseases that are now seen in unprecedented numbers. Researchers link these so-called environmental conditions like obesity, chronic inflammation, cancer or neurodegeneration to changes in microbiome composition. If an altered microbiome is a cause of modern diseases that can be defined as microbe deficit disorders – which factors are responsible for those changes to the microbial communities in our bodies and what can be done to counter these threats?

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Restoring the Microbiome

Having established that disturbed and depleted microbiomes are disrupting the healthy function of the metaorganism ultimately leading to disease, scientists began to explore possibilities to manipulate the microbial composition of the body in an attempt to restore health. It became clear that it is indeed possible to change microbiome compositions through different interventions and those advances in host-microbe research fuelled expectations that the microbiome might be a future therapeutic target to treat metabolic diseases related to dysbiosis.

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Towards a new Biology and Medicine

Recent discoveries in microbiome research opened up new frontiers in biology and medicine. With the great potential it brings for translation, it is necessary to reflect how the field might transform biology and medicine in the future. Which future perspectives are there for novel therapeutics and prophylaxes? Which are the prerequisites that will lead scientist from establishing correlations to defining causations in host-microbe interactions? With the great promise of the microbiome field, it is also clear that a lot of research still needs to be done to achieve a deeper understanding of the nature of host-microbe interactions in years to come.