The Hologenome: the Cold Spring Harbor 1994 presentation

I finally unearthed the old videos of my Cold Spring Harbor talk in 1994 in which I outlined the ideas and context of the ‘Hologenome’ as a new lens on evolution.  Cold Spring Harbor actually packaged and (briefly and presumably unsuccessfully) marketed these videos of the meeting.  Now out of print.

Cambia\’s Youtube Channel, including Cold Spring Harbor presentation

At that time (September, 1994)  I was trying to set the scene for why studying, understanding and manipulating complex systems with tools and approaches of reductionism would not be enough.

I started in part one with the concept of getting ‘Beyond the Model System’, and used real-world agriculture and environment as the entry point for that discussion.

I then went on in parts II & III to discuss the complexities of crops that were really not ‘model systems’ by any measure, sugarcane and cassava being exemplars. For this I referred to the excellent work of my friend and colleague Bruno Sobral, then at the California Institute of Biological Research and affiliated with Cambia.

Next I outlined the Hologenome concept and the idea that the microbial constitution of the entire ‘selected unit’ was the Great Unknown but perhaps – I argued – the biggest opportunity to create sustainable and robust interventions that were congruent with the logic of natural selection and evolution.

Finally in part V I discussed our thoughts on forming an international activity to create the technologies and thought framework for understanding genetic and organismal diversity. I called this the GRIT initiative at the time, but alas, for all the promotion and exhortation we were unable to secure the momentum necessary to make it happen.

Perhaps we were way before our time? Shortly after this, huge sums of money were spent on DNA sequencing and genome analysis facilities. Probably money well spent in that now we have solid data that supports the contention that the majority of the biosphere is the microbiome, and that most of the ‘visible’ biosphere is itself comprehensively populated with such a microbiome.

Maybe now we can start asking how to go from this observation and from the ability to sequence and describe the numbers and diversity of these microbes to a new ability to grok their role in biological system performance and robustness.

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