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04 The Human Microbiome

english language

The influx of molecular data into microbiology is transforming evolutionary and ecological perspectives on microbes. These transformations go beyond the exclusively microbial world to affect how we understand the environment, health, living entities, and life itself. In this seminar, we will focus on the reconceptualisation of the human microbiome that research has brought about and what this research means for traditional concepts of organismal individuality, community, and Darwinian processes. While these analyses can be understood as  philosophical , the seminar will show how these concepts are central to current scientific practice in microbiome research.

Some introductory recommended reading (with annotations):

Dupré J, O Malley MA (2007) Metagenomics and biological ontology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38: 834-846.

(A bit dated now, but it points to some of the core issues we will discuss.)

McDonald D, et al. (2013) From molecules to dynamic biological communities. Biology and Philosophy 28: 241-259.

(Scientists writing philosophically about metagenomics and the shifts in methodology and conceptualization brought about by metagenomics.)

Pollan M (2013) Some of my best friends are germs. New York Times, May 15th.

(A popular piece of writing that gets at some important issues. Very accessible, so it s a good starting place; there are several other such articles in the NYT and New Yorker.)

Zarraonaindia I, et al. (2013) Beyond the genome: community-level analysis of the microbial world. Biology and Philosophy 28: 261-282.

(More scientists writing philosophically, drawing attention in particular to conceptual and modelling issues microbial ecology needs to address now it has metagenomic data.)


Associate Professor and Group Leader, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen Chair
Future Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney, Sydney Chair

Dr. Manimozhiyan ARUMUGAM

Associate Professor and Group Leader, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen

1999-2000 Software Engineer, Infosys Technologies, India
2003-2006 Research Associate, Washington University, St. Louis
2010 PhD in Computational Biology, EMBL - European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg
 Since 2013 Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen
2010-2012 Research Scientist, EMBL - European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg

Dr. Maureen O'MALLEY

Future Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney, Sydney

since 2012 Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney
2008-2012 Senior Research Fellow, Egenis, University of Exeter
2004-2008 Research Fellow, Egenis, University of Exeter
2001-2004 Postdoctoral Fellow, Doolittle Laboratory, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Seminar Week

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17:00 - 17:15Opening of the European Forum Alpbach 2014Plenary
17:15 - 17:30Opening Concert, Part 1: sAmo for Flute, Violoncello and AccordionCulture
17:30 - 18:30Opening SpeechesPlenary
19:00 - 19:30Opening Concert, Part 2: Blink, Think & ListenCulture
19:30 - 21:00Presentation of the SeminarsPlenary
21:00 - 22:00Bread and WineSocial


01 Sustainable Peace and Security - Who Cares?Seminar
02 The Politics of Emotions: Diagnosis and Historical TransformationsSeminar
03 An Energy Transition for the FutureSeminar
04 The Human MicrobiomeSeminar
05 Creativity and Innovation for GrowthSeminar
06 1814 - 1914 - 1989: Paradigm Shifts in Public International Law and PoliticsSeminar
07 Ethical Implications of Religious WorldviewsSeminar
08 Art and ProtestSeminar
09 Europe and Its Neighbours - EU External Relations at the Crossroads?Seminar
10 Collective Memory - Present Focus on the PastSeminar
11 Feeding the WorldSeminar
12 Decisions Under UncertaintySeminar
13 Macroeconomics - The Return of IdeologiesSeminar
14 Human - Machine - RoboticsSeminar
15 The Aftermath of 1914-1918: Images of the Great WarSeminar
16 The Key to Good GovernanceSeminar
17 Media from a Theoretical PerspectiveSeminar


18:00 - 19:00Vernissage: Let the Children Play. On the 25th Anniversary of the UN-Declaration of the Rights of the ChildCulture


19:00 - 20:30Literature Talk: Wars and Civil Wars in the Mirror of Current World LiteratureCulture


18:00 - 19:30Courage. In Memoriam Fritz MoldenCulture


19:30 - 20:30Theatre Performance: Free AssociationCulture


19:00 - 22:00Alpbach IdeaJam: SEM meets EDUPlenary