Review Article

The Hologenome Concept of Evolution: Medical Implications

Eugene Rosenberg and Ilana Zilber-Rosenberg


All natural animals and plants are holobionts, consisting of the host and microbiome, which is composed of abundant and diverse microorganisms. Health and disease of holobionts depend as much on interactions between host and microbiome and within the microbiome, as on interactions between organs and body parts of the host. Recent evidence indicates that a significant fraction of the microbiome is transferred by a variety of mechanisms from parent to offspring for many generations. Genetic variation in holobionts can occur in the microbiome as well as in the host genome, and it occurs more rapidly and by more mechanisms in genomes of microbiomes than in host genomes (e.g. via acquisition of novel microbes and horizontal gene transfer of microbial genes into host chromosomes). Evidence discussed in this review supports the concept that holobionts with their hologenomes can be considered levels of selection in evolution. Though changes in the microbiome can lead to evolution of the holobiont, it can also lead to dysbiosis and diseases (e.g. obesity, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and autism). In practice, the possibility of manipulating microbiomes offers the potential to prevent and cure diseases.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2019;10(1):e0005