A few notes from the Applied Hologenomics Conference 2024

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Jul 5, 2024

I’m just back from the Applied Hologenomics Conference in 2024 (See also #AHC2024 on Twitter) in Copenhagen and thought to reflect a little on the conference and highlight the bits that particularly stuck with me.

The first thing I want to say is that a paradigm shift is happening here.

I think what is happening here is a step away from the reductionist view of the past that goes beyond the systems biology approach that has been establishing itself during the last 10-20 years.

While systems biology has been an enormously important step up from the reductionist view of the past by highlighting the fact that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, is typically focused on one organism at a time.

Hologenomics additionally embraces the fact that no organism is living in complete isolation but rather in a very tight interplay with a multitude of microorganisms, which have a tremendously important influence, of which we have only perhaps started to learn about.

Something that highlights this is the fact - as pointed out by Seth Bordenstein in the closing keynote - that close to 50% of diabetes and a few other diseases have a direct causal link to the microbiome of the host.

Seth in his keynote says we are in a third biological epoch (after The origin of species and the Modern Synthesis), where he went as far as saying “centrality of microbes in biology is far more accurate vision of nature”.

While I’m personally not completely sold on that, I guess I see the point. In my view though I think the most important thing is to realize that we are dealing with a “system of systems”, rather than just the single systems of individual organisms. Systems-of-systems is also a well-established engineering discipline which means there might be opportunities for very important insights by letting these fields cross-pollinate.

That about the general theme going on here.

Let me then share my very incomplete and randomly selected set of tidbits, facts and remarks that I found was particularly interesting new points of insight for my specific interests.

I need to add the additional caveat though that I’m not a microbiologist by training but rather come from a very computationally oriented background and so do have my own strong biases. There were such a wealth of interesting material and insights presented here that I can not truly make justice for, simply because I might not know the field enough to be able to process it in real time. Thus, the list is by necessity a very personal and biased one. But sharing it nonetheless:

Hope this gives some slight glimpses of all the good stuff being presented here. If this is not enough, the recordings of the talks should start getting published online in the next week.

Overall, I had a great time at the conference. The only thing I realized was that the focus of the talks were both less focused on clinically relevant topics and much more biology-oriented rather than computationally oriented than I was perhaps expecting. This is still OK, but it means it will take some more mental work for me to translate these insights into what it might mean in my immediate context as a rather computationally oriented bioinformatician in clinical microbiology.

Overall, I’m thankful to the organizers for an inspiring conference where I learned a lot, and got an updated view of the holobiont!

Samuel (@smllmp)