Each animal species hosts its own, unique community of microbes that can significantly improve its health and fitness. That is the implication of a laboratory study that investigated four different animal groups and their associated microbiota. The research found that each species within the group has a distinctive microbial community. Additional experiments with two of the groups - one mammal and one insect - demonstrated that individuals possessing their natural microbiota digested food more efficiently and had greater survival than those that were implanted with the microbial communities of closely related species. "Previous research has tended to concentrate on the negative effects of microbes. In this case, we are showing that whole communities of microbes have positive effects as well," said Vanderbilt graduate student Andrew Brooks, co-first author of the study. The paper describing the study's results is titled "Phylosymbiosis: Relationships and Functional Effects of Microbial Communities across Host Evolutionary History" and it was published online on November 18, 2016 in PLOS Biology. "We coined the term phylosymbiosis a couple of years ago to denote the fact that evolution can act on host species and change their microbial communities," said Seth Bordenstein, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University, who directed the study. Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Kevin Kohl and Robert Brucker at Harvard University were other co-first authors, and another participant, Edward Van Opstal, is a graduate student at Vanderbilt. All animals teem with thousands of different species of microbes collectively called the microbiome.
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