Microbiome-mediated plasticity directs host evolution along several distinct time scales

Oren Kolodny*, Hinrich Schulenburg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Host-associated microbiomes influence their host's fitness in myriad ways and can be viewed as a source of phenotypic plasticity. This plasticity may allow the host to accommodate novel environmental challenges and thus influence the host's evolutionary adaptation. As with other modalities of phenotypic plasticity in phenomena such as the Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation, the microbiome-mediated plasticity may influence host genetic adaptation by facilitating and accelerating it, by slowing it down, or even by preventing it. The dynamics involved are likely more complex than those of previously studied phenomena related to phenotypic plasticity, and involve different processes on each time scale, such as acquired recognition of newly associated microbes by the host's immune system on single- and multiple-generation time scales, or selection on transmission dynamics of microbes between hosts, acting on longer time scales. To date, it is unclear if and how any of these processes shape host evolution. This opinion piece article provides a conceptual framework for considering the processes by which microbiome-mediated plasticity directs host evolution and concludes with suggestions for key experimental tests of the presented ideas. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of the microbiome in host evolution'.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number20190589
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1808
StatePublished - 28 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Baldwin effect
  • genetic accommodation
  • genetic assimilation
  • microbiome-mediated evolution
  • phenotypic plasticity


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