Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

Frontiers in Microbial Ecology: Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics of Microbial-Host Interactions

Date: 08 April 2018 - 13 April 2018
Location: Schiermonnikoog

Microbes colonize each inch of our planet and play key roles in biogeochemical processes of all of Earth’s ecosystems. Microbes also colonize every single living creature on earth, be they plants, coral reefs, insects or humans, playing a vital role in host homeostasis. In addition to being omnipresent, microbial-host interactions vary both in the strength –from tight host-symbiont coevolution to non-specific association – and in the type of ecological interaction, ranging from mutualistic – for instance, through the provision of essential nutrients, development of host immune defence and host behaviour – to negative associations. The microbiome can also influence host mating choice, success and directly impact host fitness and survival, being thus a key component of host evolution. Although the microbiome has been accepted as a host trait, we still lack knowledge on how the microbiome is transmitted from one generation to another, the mechanisms driving the natural microbiome fluctuation, and their consequences for host fitness.

This course will examine our current understanding of the eco-evolutionary dynamics controlling host-microbiome interactions, by focusing on questions such as how and why microbial-host associations are formed, how they are maintained, and what the relevance is of these associations for host survival and adaptation to a changing world. These questions will be addressed using two main hosts – plants and insects – allowing us (i) to provide an overview of the current ecological and evolutionary overarching knowledge underlying host microbiome associations, (ii) to identify key aspects as well as the gap of knowledge inherent to each host and (iii) to use the knowledge built on each system to move towards a unified view of microbial-host interactions.

Aims of the course

To provide students with an appreciation of the most important current developments in the field of microbial-host interactions. The main goal of the course will be achieved if the participants acquire novel ideas and techniques for their own research. The course is primarily aimed at PhD level students, but is also open to advanced Master level students with interest in microbial ecology.

Contents and structure

This course is a combination of lectures on the above topics, given by a limited number of expert teachers, and discussion of key aspects of host microbiome interactions, to be raised by students and lecturers. During the period of the course the students will develop these concepts further, in groups and with the help of lecturers, which can potentially result in a publication in the form of a review or opinion paper (see Adam et al, 2016. Frontiers in Microbiology, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.01079, which was developed during the first Frontiers in Microbial Ecology course, in 2015).

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