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Table 1 Microbiome definitions

From: Microbiome definition re-visited: old concepts and new challenges

Ecological definitions
 Definitions based on ecology describe the microbiome following the concepts derived from the ecology of multicellular organisms. The main issue here is that the theories from the macro-ecology do not always fit the rules in the microbial world.
 “A convenient ecological framework in which to examine biocontrol systems is that of the microbiome. This may be defined as a characteristic microbial community occupying a reasonably well-defined habitat which has distinct physio-chemical properties. The term thus not only refers to the microorganisms involved but also encompasses their theatre of activity ”[40].
 “…This term refers to the entire habitat, including the microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, lower and higher eurkaryotes, and viruses), their genomes (i.e., genes), and the surrounding environmental conditions. This definition is based on that of “biome,” the biotic and abiotic factors of given environments. Others in the field limit the definition of microbiome to the collection of genes and genomes of members of a microbiota. It is argued that this is the definition of metagenome, which combined with the environment constitutes the microbiome. The microbiome is characterized by the application of one or combinations of metagenomics, metabonomics, metatranscriptomics, and metaproteomics combined with clinical or environmental metadata” [25].
 “others use the term microbiome to mean all the microbes of a community, and in particular, for the plant microbiome, those microbial communities associated with the plant which can live, thrive, and interact with different tissues such as roots, shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds” (from Orozco-Mosqueda et al. [41]).
 “Ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms within a body space or other environment” [42].
Organisms/host-dependent definitions
 The host-dependent definitions are based on the microbial interactions with the host. The main gaps here concern the question whether the microbial-host interaction data gained from one host can be transferred to another. The understanding of coevolution and selection in the host-dependent definitions is also underrepresented.
 “A community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body” [43].
 “Human Microbiome Project (HMP): [...] The Human Microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with the human body. These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses” [44].
Genomic/ method-driven definitions
 There is a variety of microbiome definitions available that are driven by the methods applied. Mostly, these definitions rely on DNA sequence-based analysis and describe microbiome as a collective genome of microorganisms in a specific environment. The main bottleneck here is that every new available technology will result in a need for a new definition.
 “The collective genomes of microorganisms inhabiting a particular environment and especially the human body” [43].
“The microbiome comprises all of the genetic material within a microbiota (the entire collection of microorganisms in a specific niche, such as the human gut). This can also be referred to as the metagenome of the microbiota” [45].
“Microbiome is a term that describes the genome of all the microorganisms, symbiotic and pathogenic, living in and on all vertebrates. The gut microbiome is comprised of the collective genome of microbes inhabiting the gut including bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi” [46].
 “Different approaches to define the population provide different information. a | Microbiota: 16S rRNA surveys are used to taxonomically identify the microorganisms in the environment. b | Metagenome: the genes and genomes of the microbiota, including plasmids, highlighting the genetic potential of the population. c | Microbiome: the genes and genomes of the microbiota, as well as the products of the microbiota and the host environment” [47].
 “Totality of genomes of a microbiota. Often used to describe the entity of microbial traits (=functions) encoded by a microbiota.” [48]
Combined definitions
There are some microbiome definitions available that fit several categories with their advantages and disadvantages.
 “A microbiome is the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space” [49].
“The microbiome is the sum of the microbes and their genomic elements in a particular environment” [50].
“The genes and genomes of the microbiota, as well as the products of the microbiota and the host environment” [51].