Introducing the Symbiome: Scientists Take a Fresh Look at Darwin’s Tree of Life

Report from Aaron Waltz, Ph.D., Director of Field Trials and Nutrition

Scientists are looking at Darwin’s 150-year-old Tree of Life with new eyes, according to a new study (Reshaping Darwin’s Tree: Impact of the Symbiome, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2017). The new and improved Tree of Life, which identifies and categorizes all living organisms, should include microbes alongside the organisms with which they have symbiotic relationships.

Darwin’s original model separated bacteria and fungi into separate trees, but scientists now realize how integrally connected they are to all other living organisms. This new understanding has spawned a new term—symbiome—to describe the interdependent community of species that make up a living organism.

The symbiome concept presents a much more holistic view of life, taking into account the fact that organisms and microorganisms depend on each other for survival and have co-evolved together. This new understanding of individual microbes and their functions on plants and animals is already revolutionizing the fields of agriculture and medicine.

Read more about this new viewpoint on Darwin’s Tree of Life here.

Image credit: Laura A. Hug et al, doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.48

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