to present information from relevant experience, to delineate a range of pivotal issues and their respective challenges, and to offer differing perspectives on the topic as discussed and described by the workshop participants. Manuscripts and reprinted articles submitted by workshop participants may be found, in alphabetical order, in Appendix A.

Although this workshop summary provides a description of the individual presentations, it also reflects an important aspect of the Forum’s philosophy. The workshop functions as a dialogue among representatives from different sectors and allows them to present their views about which areas, in their opinion, merit further study. This report only summarizes the statements of participants at the workshop over the course of 2 consecutive days. This workshop summary is not intended to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject matter nor does it represent the findings, conclusions, or recommendations of a consensus committee process.

Glimpses of Microbial Community Dynamics

“We have to get away from this monolithic, one-dimensional perspective of a one bug–one-disease picture of health. The community is the unit of study.”

—David Relman (Buchen, 2010)

“One reason we may have a hard time remembering that all microbes exist in communities is due to an early focus of scientists on microbes that cause disease.”

—Joan Strassmann (2012a)

Observations of bacteria grown in the artificially simple environments of the Petri dish and the test tube have provided detailed knowledge of the physiology and cellular processes of organisms amenable to such culturing techniques (Little et al., 2008). With the recent development of “culture-independent” methods of microbial characterization,6 researchers have determined that such culturable species represent only a minuscule fraction of the microbial diversity around us. These techniques have further revealed the dynamic communities that the vast majority of microorganisms shape and inhabit—from simple communities composed of one to two species to complex, spatially diversified, host-associated communities comprising hundreds of species (Handelsman, 2004; Little et al., 2008; Nee, 2004).

This workshop’s focus on the community as the unit of study continues the Forum’s exploration of “a more realistic and detailed picture of the dynamic


6 Various “culture-independent” techniques are discussed in the section “The Structure and Function of Microbial Communities (see page 25).”

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