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  1. Abstract Background

    Host genetics can shape microbiome composition, but to what extent it does, remains unclear. Like any other complex trait, this important question can be addressed by estimating the heritability (h2) of the microbiome—the proportion of variance in the abundance in each taxon that is attributable to host genetic variation. However, unlike most complex traits, microbiome heritability is typically based on relative abundance data, where taxon-specific abundances are expressed as the proportion of the total microbial abundance in a sample.


    We derived an analytical approximation for the heritability that one obtains when using such relative, and not absolute, abundances, based on an underlying quantitative genetic model for absolute abundances. Based on this, we uncovered three problems that can arise when using relative abundances to estimate microbiome heritability: (1) the interdependency between taxa can lead to imprecise heritability estimates. This problem is most apparent for dominant taxa. (2) Large sample size leads to high false discovery rates. With enough statistical power, the result is a strong overestimation of the number of heritable taxa in a community. (3) Microbial co-abundances lead to biased heritability estimates.


    We discuss several potential solutions for advancing the field, focusing on technical and statistical developments, and conclude that caution must be taken when interpreting heritability estimates and comparing values across studies.

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  2. Abstract

    Bacteriophages are obligate parasites of bacteria characterized by the breadth of hosts that they can infect. This “host range” depends on the genotypes and morphologies of the phage and the bacterial host, but also on the environment in which they are interacting. Understanding phage host range is critical to predicting the impacts of these parasites in their natural host communities and their utility as therapeutic agents, but is also key to predicting how phages evolve and in doing so drive evolutionary change in their host populations, including through movement of genes among unrelated bacterial genomes. Here, we explore the drivers of phage infection and host range from the molecular underpinnings of the phage–host interaction to the ecological context in which they occur. We further evaluate the importance of intrinsic, transient, and environmental drivers shaping phage infection and replication, and discuss how each influences host range over evolutionary time. The host range of phages has great consequences in phage-based application strategies, as well as natural community dynamics, and we therefore highlight both recent developments and key open questions in the field as phage-based therapeutics come back into focus.

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  3. Viruses of bacteriophages (phages) have broad effects on bacterial ecology and evolution in nature that mediate microbial interactions, shape bacterial diversity, and influence nutrient cycling and ecosystem function. The unrelenting impact of phages within the microbial realm is the result, in large part, of their ability to rapidly evolve in response to bacterial host dynamics. The knowledge gained from laboratory systems, typically using pairwise interactions between single-host and single-phage systems, has made clear that phages coevolve with their bacterial hosts rapidly, somewhat predictably, and primarily by counteradapting to host resistance. Recent advancement in metagenomics approaches, as well as a shifting focus toward natural microbial communities and host-associated microbiomes, is beginning to uncover the full picture of phage evolution and ecology within more complex settings. As these data reach their full potential, it will be critical to ask when and how insights gained from studies of phage evolution in vitro can be meaningfully applied to understanding bacteria-phage interactions in nature. In this review, we explore the myriad ways that phages shape and are themselves shaped by bacterial host populations and communities, with a particular focus on observed and predicted differences between the laboratory and complex microbial communities. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Virology, Volume 9 is September 2022. Please see for revised estimates. 
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  4. Hendrickson, Heather (Ed.)
    Abstract Bacteria and lytic viruses (phages) engage in highly dynamic coevolutionary interactions over time, yet we have little idea of how transient selection by phages might shape the future evolutionary trajectories of their host populations. To explore this question, we generated genetically diverse phage-resistant mutants of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. We subjected the panel of mutants to prolonged experimental evolution in the absence of phages. Some populations re-evolved phage sensitivity, whereas others acquired compensatory mutations that reduced the costs of resistance without altering resistance levels. To ask whether these outcomes were driven by the initial genetic mechanisms of resistance, we next evolved independent replicates of each individual mutant in the absence of phages. We found a strong signature of historical contingency: some mutations were highly reversible across replicate populations, whereas others were highly entrenched. Through whole-genome sequencing of bacteria over time, we also found that populations with the same resistance gene acquired more parallel sets of mutations than populations with different resistance genes, suggesting that compensatory adaptation is also contingent on how resistance initially evolved. Our study identifies an evolutionary ratchet in bacteria–phage coevolution and may explain previous observations that resistance persists over time in some bacterial populations but is lost in others. We add to a growing body of work describing the key role of phages in the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of their host communities. Beyond this specific trait, our study provides a new insight into the genetic architecture of historical contingency, a crucial component of interpreting and predicting evolution. 
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  5. Abstract

    The absence of microbial exposure early in life leaves individuals vulnerable to immune overreaction later in life, manifesting as immunopathology, autoimmunity, or allergies. A key factor is thought to be a “critical window” during which the host's immune system can “learn” tolerance, and beyond which learning is no longer possible. Animal models indicate that many mechanisms have evolved to enable critical windows, and that their time limits are distinct and consistent. Such a variety of mechanisms, and precision in their manifestation suggest the outcome of strong evolutionary selection. To strengthen our understanding of critical windows, we explore their underlying evolutionary ecology using models encompassing demographic and epidemiological transitions, identifying the length of the critical window that would maximize fitness in different environments. We characterize how direct effects of microbes on host mortality, but also indirect effects via microbial ecology, will drive the optimal length of the critical window. We find that indirect effects such as magnitude of transmission, duration of infection, rates of reinfection, vertical transmission, host demography, and seasonality in transmission all have the effect of redistributing the timing and/or likelihood of encounters with microbial taxa across age, and thus increasing or decreasing the optimal length of the critical window. Declining microbial population abundance and diversity are predicted to result in increases in immune dysfunction later in life. We also make predictions for the length of the critical window across different taxa and environments. Overall, our modeling efforts demonstrate how critical windows will be impacted over evolution as a function of both host-microbiome/pathogen interactions and dispersal, raising central questions about potential mismatches between these evolved systems and the current loss of microbial diversity and/or increases in infectious disease.

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  6. Semrau, Jeremy D. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Food crops are grown with fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (macronutrients) along with magnesium, calcium, boron, and zinc (micronutrients) at different ratios during their cultivation. Soil and plant-associated microbes have been implicated to promote plant growth, stress tolerance, and productivity. However, the high degree of variability across agricultural environments makes it difficult to assess the possible influences of nutrient fertilizers on these microbial communities. Uncovering the underlying mechanisms could lead us to achieve consistently improved food quality and productivity with minimal environmental impacts. For this purpose, we tested a commercially available fertilizer (surface-mined volcanic ash deposit Azomite) applied as a supplement to the normal fertilizer program of greenhouse-grown tomato plants. Because this treatment showed a significant increase in fruit production at measured intervals, we examined its impact on the composition of below-ground microbial communities, focusing on members identified as “core taxa” that were enriched in the rhizosphere and root endosphere compared to bulk soil and appeared above their predicted neutral distribution levels in control and treated samples. This analysis revealed that Azomite had little effect on microbial composition overall, but it had a significant, temporally selective influence on the core taxa. Changes in the composition of the core taxa were correlated with computationally inferred changes in functional pathway enrichment associated with carbohydrate metabolism, suggesting a shift in available microbial nutrients within the roots. This finding exemplifies how the nutrient environment can specifically alter the functional capacity of root-associated bacterial taxa, with the potential to improve crop productivity. IMPORTANCE Various types of soil fertilizers are used routinely to increase crop yields globally. The effects of these treatments are assessed mainly by the benefits they provide in increased crop productivity. There exists a gap in our understanding of how soil fertilizers act on the plant-associated microbial communities. The underlying mechanisms of nutrient uptake are widely complex and, thus, difficult to evaluate fully but have critical influences on both soil and plant health. Here, we presented a systematic approach to analyzing the effects of fertilizer on core microbial communities in soil and plants, leading to predictable outcomes that can be empirically tested and used to develop simple and affordable field tests. The methods described here can be used for any fertilizer and crop system. Continued effort in advancing our understanding of how fertilizers affect plant and microbe relations is needed to advance scientific understanding and help growers make better-informed decisions. 
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