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The diversity and functional significance of microbiomes have become increasingly clear through the extensive sampling of Earth's many habitats and the rapid adoption of new sequencing technologies. However, much remains unknown about what makes a “healthy” microbiome, how to restore a disrupted microbiome, and how microbiomes assemble. In December 2019, we convened a workshop that focused on how to identify potential “rules of life” that govern microbiome structure and function. This collection of mSystems Perspective pieces reflects many of the main challenges and opportunities in the field identified by both in-person and virtual workshop participants. By borrowing conceptual and theoretical approaches from other fields, including economics and philosophy, these pieces suggest new ways to dissect microbiome patterns and processes. The application of conceptual advances, including trait-based theory and community coalescence, is providing new insights on how to predict and manage microbiome diversity and function. Technological and analytical advances, including deep transfer learning, metabolic models, and advances in analytical chemistry, are helping us sift through complex systems to pinpoint mechanisms of microbiome assembly and dynamics. Integration of all of these advancements (theory, concepts, technology) across biological and spatial scales is providing dramatically improved temporal and spatial resolution of microbiome dynamics. This integrative microbiome research is happening in a new moment in science where academic institutions, scientific societies, and funding agencies must act collaboratively to support and train a diverse and inclusive community of microbiome scientists.


Published in mSystems by the American Society for Microbiology. Available via doi: 10.1128/msystems.00583-22.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.