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SymBioNet is an international consortium of researchers interested in rapidly moving the field of Symbiosis forward. The consortium is organized as a "network-of-networks", with prominent labs serving as nodes to facilitate further in-country and local interactions.

PI and concept 

  • Shailesh Date (GV/LRC)


  • Tomas Tyml, Postdoctoral Researcher (GV/LRC & JGI)

  • Jean-Marie Volland, Fellow and Project Scientist (GV/LRC & JGI)

Statement of Purpose (SoP)

Symbiotic relationships, besides their contribution to the evolution of the eukaryotic cell and species evolution, are now generally recognized as the potential driving force behind the success of microbial colonies and communities. Despite their importance, however, symbiosis research remains fairly siloed and focused primarily on plant-microbe interactions and a few other arcane systems. In an attempt to address long-standing questions in the field, create an ‘opportunity pool’ for the scientific community, and enable scientists to develop novel and complex projects beyond the capability of individual labs and institutions, we launched “SymBioNet”, a global collaborative network-of-networks of established investigators and scientists in the field of microbial ecology and microbial symbiosis. Launched in October 2019, SymBioNet members will, over the next 3 years, bootstrap towards a framework that will support systematic, coordinated and concentrated research. The team will focus primarily on developing and testing new tools/protocols and model systems to facilitate advances in the area of microbial ecology and symbiosis, and provide new and unique career opportunities for future generations of scientists.


  1. Identify up to 5 fundamental, as yet unanswered questions in symbiosis and microbe-microbe interactions that will rapid move the field forward

  2. Create a common research framework and roadmap that encourages development and dissemination of new tools, protocols and model systems to help better understand the ecology, biodiversity and evolutionary biology of symbiosis 

  3. Expose the next generation of scientists to cross-disciplinary research while training them to undertake high-impact projects in the field of symbiosis and microbial interactions

Current nodes and members (to expand over 2019-20)

  • USA: Tanja Woyke (JGI), Nikos Kyrpides (JGI), Natalia Ivanova (JGI), Grant Jensen (Caltech), Shailesh Date (GV/LRC), Matthias Hess (UC Davis)

  • UK: Stuart West (Oxford)

  • Germany: Nicole Dubilier (Max Planck)

  • Vienna: Silvia Bulgheresi (U.Vienna)

  • France/Antilles: Olivier Gros (U.Antilles)

Areas of concentration

Participating labs in SymBioNet will work together to identify common focus areas that will move the field forward. Once common areas have been identified, individual labs will develop research strategies to contribute in one or more area(s):


  1. technology development, such as single-cell approaches and high-throughput microscopy;

  2. discovery and analysis, which will include identifying novel biology and biochemistry of mutualistic associations;

  3. modeling, computation, and theory of symbiotic associations, including bioinformatics analyses;

  4. commercial and applied aspects of symbiosis research


Labs/research-groups will identify an area of focus and will work with other labs to develop one or more collaborative projects that will aim to address a fundamental question in symbiosis research.



Date Lab, LRC

  • Project 0 (bootstrap!): SymBioNet: An international research network-of-networks focussed on answering fundamental questions in microbial symbiosis 



- Catalytic phase proposal (planning) to be submitted to NSF in Jan 2020

- Letter of intent (LOI) submitted to NSF Accelnet call

  • Project 1: In search of missing complexity on the tree of life

Organismal complexity is not uniformly distributed throughout the evolutionary tree of life. While some branches have evolved into very elaborate and high-functioning forms (E.g. Humans), prokaryotes (Archaea and Bacteria) have apparently remained simple and unicellular even after 3 billion years of evolution. This apparent evolutionary conundrum has perpetuated dogmatic acceptance of the rarity of major evolutionary transitions like eukaryogenesis and development of multicellularity, while implicitly suggesting the potential for development of organismal complexity as being limited to some branches. Given recent advances in our knowledge of the structure, function and composition of microbial communities, and their ability to form a number of chemical and physical associations, we have challenged these assumptions. We have launched a new project that uses computational, theoretic and experimental methods to elucidate the extent and distribution of symbioses, with a view to understanding the steps towards transition to multicellularity. 


Participating labs: Woyke, Kyrpides, Ivanova, West & Date

  • Project 2: New models for studying symbioses

Chemosynthetic symbioses, even while being ubiquitous and evolutionarily relevant, have received far less attention than heterotrophic (e.g. rumen) and photosynthetic (e.g. coral) symbioses and their research been hampered by the lack of model systems. In light of their ecological and evolutionary relevance of such associations, we are developing model systems involving bacteria that are able to form promiscuous symbioses with diverse eukaryotes as well as prokaryotes. These models will help us better understand if there are genomic and/or biochemical factors that push certain systems towards symbiotic behavior.

Participating labs: Woyke, Jensen & Date

Collaborators: Olivier Gros (Univ. des Antilles), Carolyn Larabell (Berkeley Lab)

Hess Lab (UC Davis)

  • Microbe-microbe and microbe-host interaction that facilitate and inhibit symbiotic relationships within communities that are degrade complex carbohydrates under anaerobic conditions (collaborating labs: From Australia, NZ, Europe, US)

Bulgheresi Lab (Univ. of Vienna, Austria) 

  • Extraordinary cell biology and physiology of bacterial symbionts (collaborating labs: den Blaauwen, Boccard, Tonjum)

West Lab (Oxford University)

  • Evolution of cooperation and division of labor (collaborating labs: Ghoul, Jiminez, Cornwallis, Ross, Werner)

Other projects and collaborations (details coming). 

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