Consensus Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The 21st century has witnessed a complete revolution in the understanding and description of bacteria in eco- systems and microbial assemblages, and how they are regulated by complex interactions among microbes, hosts, and environments. The human organism is no longer considered a monolithic assembly of tissues, but is instead a true ecosystem composed of human cells, bacteria, fungi, algae, and viruses. As such, humans are not unlike other complex ecosystems containing microbial assemblages observed in the marine and earth environments. They all share a basic functional principle: chemical communication is the universal language that allows such groups to properly function together. These chemical networks regulate interactions like metabolic exchange, antibiosis and symbiosis, and communication.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Chemical Sciences Roundtable organized a series of four seminars in the autumn of 2016 to explore the current advances, opportunities, and challenges toward unveiling this "chemical dark matter" and its role in the regulation and function of different ecosystems. The first three focused on specific ecosystems -- earth, marine, and human -- and the last on all microbiome systems. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the seminars.