We need a stunning and captivating illustration of the human microbiome. This is the community of microbes--microscopic, single-celled organisms--that live on and in the human body, recently described in the Economist here:http://www.economist.com/node/21560523.
Microbes outnumber human cells by a factor of 10, and they are also incredibly diverse. Our scientific goal is to understand the structure and diversity of microbial communities, and we need to visually convey our approach to doing this.
Our current draft of this illustration (file uploaded) has four panels, but we are completely open as to how to convey these four ideas, or if they can be condensed down into a simpler illustration.
(A) The first panel shows a traditional view of how groups of species (ecological communities) assemble. Although our research is about microbes, we use plant communities as a visual in this first panel because it gives an example of ecological communities that people can see. The focal community is the central image in panel A, with the arrows pointing towards it. We want to describe the processes that determine which plants end up in this focal community, and the arrows show that it is put together from seeds dispersed from several other nearby communities. Any of those other nearby communities could be thought of as the focal community, there is nothing special about the one we're looking at---the point is that there is a kind of mixing between these different places, so that the focal community is connected to everything else nearby.
In each of the other three panels we are trying to convey that communities of microbes living in or on the human body are brought together by the same kinds of connections---but this time the connections are with other humans. Microbes can disperse through the air from human to human, or through direct contact. We then have three different scenarios, depending on how we define the focal community, and how we define all the other nearby communities it can draw from.
(B) The focal community is a single body habitat---we have chosen the human hand, but it could be anywhere else, like the forehead, or the gut. The larger community that this focal community mixes with here is the set of microbes living on other human hands.
(C) The focal community is still a single body habitat, like the hand, but here we think of the larger community as all microbes living on any body habitat of other humans.
(D) Finally, we think of the focal community as the whole microbiome for a single human, all of the microbes living across all body habitats. And again, the larger community being drawn on is all microbes living on any body habitat of other humans.