Relating urban biodiversity to human health with the 'Holobiont' concept

Jacob G. Mills, Justin D. Brookes, Nicholas J.C. Gellie, Craig Liddicoat, Andrew J. Lowe, Harrison R. Sydnor, Torsten Thomas, Philip Weinstein, Laura S. Weyrich, Martin F. Breed

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
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A relatively unaccounted ecosystem service from biodiversity is the benefit to human health via symbiotic microbiota from our environment. This benefit occurs because humans evolved alongside microbes and have been constantly exposed to diverse microbiota. Plants and animals, including humans, are organised as a host with symbiotic microbiota, whose collective genome and life history form a single holobiont. As such, there are interdependencies between biodiversity, holobionts, and public health which lead us to argue that human health outcomes could be improved by increasing contact with biodiversity in an urban context. We propose that humans, like all holobionts, likely require a diverse microbial habitat to appropriate resources for living healthy, long lives. We discuss how industrial urbanisation likely disrupts the symbiosis between microbiota and their hosts, leading to negative health outcomes. The industrialised urban habitat is low in macro and microbial biodiversity and discourages contact with beneficial environmental microbiota. These habitat factors, alongside diet, antibiotics, and others, are associated with the epidemic of non-communicable diseases in these societies. We suggest that restoration of urban microbial biodiversity and micro-ecological processes through microbiome rewilding can benefit holobiont health and aid in treating the urban non-communicable disease epidemic. Further, we identify research gaps and some solutions to economic and strategic hurdles in applying microbiome rewilding into daily urban life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number550
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 Mills, Brookes, Gellie, Liddicoat, Lowe, Sydnor, Thomas, Weinstein, Weyrich and Breed. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Biophilic cities
  • Ecosystem services
  • Holobiont
  • Immune
  • Microbiome
  • Non-communicable disease
  • Restoration ecology
  • Urban


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