Microbial symbionts inhabit the soma and surfaces of most multicellular species and instigate both beneficial and harmful infections. Despite their ubiquity, we are only beginning to resolve major patterns of symbiont ecology and evolution. Here, we summarize the history, current progress, and projected future of the study of microbial symbiont evolution throughout the tree of life. We focus on the recent surge of data that whole-genome sequencing has introduced into the field, in particular the links that are now being made between symbiotic lifestyle and molecular evolution. Post-genomic and systems biology approaches are also emerging as powerful techniques to investigate host-microbe interactions, both at the molecular level of the species interface and at the global scale. In parallel, next-generation sequencing technologies are allowing new questions to be addressed by providing access to population genomic data, as well as the much larger genomes of microbial eukaryotic symbionts and hosts. Throughout we describe the questions that these techniques are tackling and we conclude by listing a series of unanswered questions in microbial symbiosis that can potentially be addressed with the new technologies.
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