Microbial transmission in the social microbiome and host health and disease

Amar Sarkar, Cameron J.A. McInroy, Siobhán Harty, Aura Raulo, Neil G.O. Ibata, Mireia Valles-Colomer, Katerina V.A. Johnson, Ilana L. Brito, Joseph Henrich, Elizabeth A. Archie, Luis B. Barreiro, Francesca S. Gazzaniga, B. Brett Finlay, Eugene V. Koonin, Rachel N. Carmody, Andrew H. Moeller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Although social interactions are known to drive pathogen transmission, the contributions of socially transmissible host-associated mutualists and commensals to host health and disease remain poorly explored. We use the concept of the social microbiome—the microbial metacommunity of a social network of hosts—to analyze the implications of social microbial transmission for host health and disease. We investigate the contributions of socially transmissible microbes to both eco-evolutionary microbiome community processes (colonization resistance, the evolution of virulence, and reactions to ecological disturbance) and microbial transmission-based processes (transmission of microbes with metabolic and immune effects, inter-specific transmission, transmission of antibiotic-resistant microbes, and transmission of viruses). We consider the implications of social microbial transmission for communicable and non-communicable diseases and evaluate the importance of a socially transmissible component underlying canonically non-communicable diseases. The social transmission of mutualists and commensals may play a significant, under-appreciated role in the social determinants of health and may act as a hidden force in social evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-43
Number of pages27
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 4 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • antibiotic resistance
  • antibiotics
  • communicable diseases
  • immunity
  • microbial transmission
  • microbiota
  • non-communicable diseases
  • social determinants of health
  • social evolution
  • social networks
  • social transmission
  • social virome


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