The Birth of the Holobiont: Multi-species Birthing Through Mutual Scaffolding and Niche Construction

Biosemiotics 8 (2):191-210 (2015)
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Abstract

Holobionts are multicellular eukaryotes with multiple species of persistent symbionts. They are not individuals in the genetic sense— composed of and regulated by the same genome—but they are anatomical, physiological, developmental, immunological, and evolutionary units, evolved from a shared relationship between different species. We argue that many of the interactions between human and microbiota symbionts and the reproductive process of a new holobiont are best understood as instances of reciprocal scaffolding of developmental processes and mutual construction of developmental, ecological, and evolutionary niches. Our examples show that mother, fetus, and different symbiotic microbial communities induce or constitute conditions for the development and reproduction of one another. These include the direct induction of maternal or fetus physiological changes, the restructuring of ecological relations between communities, and evolutionary selection against undesirable competitors. The mutual scaffolding and niche constructing processes start early—prior to amniotic rupture. We are evolutionarily, physiologically, and developmentally integrated holobiont systems, strung together through mutual reliance and mutual construction. Bringing the processes of niche construction and developmental scaffolding together to interpret holobiont birth conceptually scaffolds two new directions for research: in niche construction, identifying the evolutionary implications of organisms actively constructing multiple overlapping niches and scaffolds, and in Evolutionary Developmental Biology, characterizing evolutionary and ecological processes as developmental causes

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Lynn Chiu
University of Bordeaux/CNRS

References found in this work

The Sciences of the Artificial.Herbert Alexander Simon - 1969 - Cambridge, Massachusetts: [Cambridge, M.I.T. Press.
The Dialectical Biologist.Richard Levins - 1985 - Harvard University Press.
Minds: extended or scaffolded?Kim Sterelny - 2010 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9 (4):465-481.

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