Over the last decades, sequencing technologies have transformed our ability to investigate the composition and functional capacity of microbial communities. Even so, critical questions remain about these complex systems that cannot be addressed by the bulk, community-averaged data typically provided by sequencing methods. In this Perspective, I propose that future advances in microbiome research will emerge from considering “the lives of microbes”: we need to create methods to explicitly interrogate how microbes exist and interact in native-setting-like microenvironments. This approach includes developing approaches that expose the phenotypic heterogeneity of microbes; exploring the effects of coculture cues on cellular differentiation and metabolite production; and designing visualization systems that capture features of native microbial environments while permitting the nondestructive observation of microbial interactions over space and time with single-cell resolution.
Shank, E. A. (2018). Considering the Lives of Microbes in Microbial Communities. MSystems, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.1128/msystems.00155-17