Persistence of functional microbiota composition across generations

Ramos, Christian; Calus, Mario; Schokker, Dirkjan


Holobionts are defined as a host and its microbiota, however, only a fraction of the bacteria are inherited vertically and thus coevolve with the host. The “it’s the song, not the singer” theory proposes that functional traits, instead of taxonomical microbiota composition, could be preserved across generations if interspecies interaction patterns perpetuate themselves. We tested conservation of functional composition across generations using zooplankton, mosquito, and plant datasets. Then, we tested if there is a change of functional microbiota composition over time within a generation in human datasets. Finally, we simulated microbiota communities to investigate if (pairwise) interactions can lead to multiple stable community compositions. Our results suggest that the vertically transmitted microbiota starts a predictable change of functions performed by the microbiota over time, whose robustness depends on the arrival of diverse migrants. This succession culminates in a stable functional composition state. The results suggest that the host-microbiota interaction and higher order interactions in general have an important contribution to the robustness of the final community. If the proposed mechanism proves to be valid for a diverse array of host species, this would support the concept of holobionts being used as units of selection, including animal breeding, suggesting this has a wider applicability.