Science — great science — takes time. I am not talking about the actual time it takes to conduct research, write a research paper, and if the wind is blowing that day have it published sans correction in a reputable journal. Here I am talking about the time it takes for that great, paradigm-shifting idea to take hold and rock the academic world. You see, as scientists we are sceptical and methodical by nature and training. This means that we are surprisingly slow at really accepting revolutionary new ideas, or even proposing them, until the weight of evidence (painstakingly collected!) is on our side. Despite what many people think, true scientific innovation is therefore slow. And some people suggest we should slow down even further…
This year marks twenty-four years since the hologenome concept of evolution was first publicly introduced. The notion that small microbial organisms inhabit ever part of our body is now widely accepted (the good, the bad, and the REALLY bad). However, what most people are not aware of, is that the genome (all genetic material) of these microbes interacts with our genome. Because these microbes live in/on our bodies, the collective term of their genome and ours is “hologenome”. To many evolutionary biologists and evolutionary ecologists this idea of the hologenome is intuitive, but very few scientist are working on understanding how the hologenome can be acted upon by evolutionary processes – few people are examining how the hologenome might impact the creation of new species, dispersal/migration of species, divergence within species, and selection imposed upon the species by the environment.
As I mentioned in my previously blog post here and here, I consider myself an ecologist — an evolutionary ecologist to be exact. As a result, my current Ph.D work is focused on understanding and developing techniques/approaches that can be used to engineer the hologenome to improve plant health. I am interested in unlocking the hidden the mysteries of the hologenome. I play around with plant genetics and microbial genetics to understand which evolutionary processes shape their interactions. There are still far too few scientists interested in understanding these interactions.
Which leaves me wondering: Is it time to change the way we operate as a scientific community? Could we speed up the process of discovering truly ground-breaking ideas like E=mc2, evolution, the structure of DNA, epigenetics? Are we ready to embrace the idea of truly collaboration across disciplines and skills sets, creating scientific ‘melting pots’ that could accelerate the process of discovery and creation? Or are we too set in our ways?
 Richard Jefferson first introduced the concept at a public meeting in 1994