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  1. null (Ed.)
    The functional ecology of the gastrointestinal tract impacts host physiology, and its dysregulation is at the center of various diseases. The immune system, and specifically innate immunity, plays a fundamental role in modulating the interface of host and microbes in the gut. While humans remain a primary focus of research in this field, the use of diverse model systems help inform us of the fundamental principles legislating homeostasis in the gut. Invertebrates, which lack vertebrate-style adaptive immunity, can help define conserved features of innate immunity that shape the gut ecosystem. In this context, we previously proposed the use of a marine invertebrate, the protochordate Ciona robusta , as a novel tractable model system for studies of host-microbiome interactions. Significant progress, reviewed herein, has been made to fulfill that vision. We examine and review discoveries from Ciona that include roles for a secreted immune effector interacting with elements of the microbiota, as well as chitin-rich mucus lining the gut epithelium, the gut-associated microbiome of adults, and the establishment of a large catalog of cultured isolates with which juveniles can be colonized. Also discussed is the establishment of methods to rear the animals germ-free, an essential technology for dissecting the symbiotic interactions at play. As the foundation is now set to extend these studies into the future, broadening our comprehension of how host effectors shape the ecology of these microbial communities in ways that establish and maintain homeostasis will require full utilization of “multi-omics” approaches to merge computational sciences, modeling, and experimental biology in hypothesis-driven investigations. 
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  2. The gastrointestinal tract of Ciona intestinalis, a solitary tunicate that siphon filters water, shares similarities with its mammalian counterpart. The Ciona gut exhibits other features that are unique to protochordates, including certain immune molecules, and other characteristics, e.g. chitin-rich mucus, which appears to be more widespread than considered previously. Exposure of Ciona to dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) induces a colitis-like phenotype similar to that seen in other systems and is characterized by alteration of epithelial morphology and infiltration of blood cells into lamina propria like regions. DSS treatment also influences the production and localization of a secreted immune molecule shown previously to co-localize to chitin-rich mucus in the gut. Resistance to DSS is enhanced by exposure to exogenous chitin microparticles, suggesting that endogenous chitin is critical to barrier integrity. Protochordates, such as Ciona, retain basic characteristics found in other more advanced chordates and can inform us of uniquely conserved signals shaping host-microbiota interactions in the absence of adaptive immunity. These simpler model systems may also reveal factors and processes that modulate recovery from colitis, the role gut microbiota play in the onset of the disease, and the rules that help govern the reestablishment and maintenance of gut homeostasis.

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