Food Science and Technology Department


Date of this Version



PNAS (March 15, 2011) vol. 108, suppl. 1, pp. 4645–4652 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000099107


This paper results from the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, "Microbes and Health," held November 2–3, 2009, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, CA.


Vertebrates engage in symbiotic associations with vast and complex microbial communities that colonize their gastrointestinal tracts. Recent advances have provided mechanistic insight into the important contributions of the gut microbiome to vertebrate biology, but questions remain about the evolutionary processes that have shaped symbiotic interactions in the gut and the consequences that arise for both the microbes and the host. Here we discuss the biological principles that underlie microbial symbiosis in the vertebrate gut and the potential of the development of mutualism. We then review phylogenetic and experimental studies on the vertebrate symbiont Lactobacillus reuteri that have provided novel insight into the ecological and evolutionary strategy of a gut microbe and its relationship with the host. We argue that a mechanistic understanding of the microbial symbiosis in the vertebrate gut and its evolution will be important to determine how this relationship can go awry, and it may reveal possibilities by which the gut microbiome can be manipulated to support health.

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