Realizing the importance of the concept of holobionts, many marine labs across Europe have started to incorporate this notion into their research projects at different levels, from targeted cultivation experiments in the laboratory via metagenomics to vast barcoding studies that describe diversity patterns in microbial (frequently bacterial) communities associated with different micro- and macro- hosts. These projects, however, remain disconnected, and there are very few examples of studies that bridge the gap between functional interdependencies between a host and its symbionts, the impact these interdependencies have on the functioning of an ecosystem, and the role of the ecosystem in shaping these interactions. Furthermore, very little is known about the mechanisms that have enabled the initiation and maintenance of these complex systems across evolutionary time.
Answering these latter questions requires the interaction and coordination between experts from different fields and starting to search for points of convergence and synergies in our research. This is the primary objective of this foresight workshop: we will be bringing together a small group of experts including several slots for talented early stage researchers working on different systems (micro, macro, plant, animal, viruses), at different scales (molecular system in the laboratory to ecosystem), using different approaches (e.g. chemistry, microfluidics to genomics), and addressing different parts of these questions (e.g. from metabolic exchanges via ecosystem function to evolutionary implications). During two full days, besides review talks by nine leading scientists, covering a large panel of expertise (philosophy, marine biology and ecology, microbiology, mathematics, evolution), we deliberately chose to leave enough room for in-depth discussions that will be organized by topics to ensure effective outcomes for each scientific session.
As a tangible outcome of this workshop, and starting on its last day we will prepare a joint position paper identifying the main challenges, possible solutions, and opportunities for a comprehensive study of the functions of host microbe interactions in marine systems and the assessment of their importance on an ecosystem level. The impact of this FSW, however, will extend beyond this paper as we anticipate that the discussions as well as the preparation of the position paper will help consolidate an interdisciplinary network of European scientists, which will be an excellent starting point for joint project proposals at a European level in the context of the FP9, thus having a long-term impact on structuring holobiont-related science performed at the European level.