‘Cloud of Microbes’

ImageMysophobia, or the fear of germs, was once described as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but in present day it seems to be the norm. We live in fear of bacteria, guarded with our hand sanitizer and antibiotics. We, as humans, have not traveled our long journey through history alone. Along with us travelled microorganisms that have lived with us through a commensal or mutualistic relationship. Normally when one hears about bacteria in everyday life it is the ‘bad’ pathogenic type we are trying to kill with strong chemicals. But, each one of us has a community of ‘good’ bacteria living within our bodies that do not cause us any harm.  The commensal bacteria, or microbiota, help several functions of our body. These functions include our body’s metabolism, immune response, and neurobiological signaling. The bacterial cells in our gastrointestinal tract number ten-fold to the amount of human cells that make up our bodies, as well as, a hundred fold the amount of genes. These bacteria have benefitted our overall wellbeing by aiding several functions of our bodies. The commensal and mutualistic microorganisms have shielded us from harmful microorganisms and helped fight infection. As we have adapted to our dynamic environment, these bacteria have followed suit. As seen through experiments, mice without commensal bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract die on impact with the slightest exposure to the outside world. In essence, this shows how pertinent our commensal bacteria are to our livelihood. So, what has our reaction to guard ourselves against bacteria cost us? Many scientists are starting to believe our consistent use of antibacterial products have harmed our commensal gut microbiota. Research has started to suggest that this alteration to our gut environment has caused several gastrointestinal disorders that have become more prevalent in modern times. Probiotics have been suggested as a way to reestablish our normal flora, and aid in remission of gut diseases. 

In this video, Jonathan Eisen discusses this ‘cloud of microbes’ living on and with us and how new research is looking into the affects of alteration to the human microbiome. 



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19 responses to “‘Cloud of Microbes’

  1. I think people don’t realize there is more bacterial DNA in their body than human DNA. As you mentioned, there is also this misconception that many bacteria are viewed as inherently bad. Our native bacteria *need* us to survive, just as much as we need them; our bacteria doesn’t want anything more to do with pathogens than we do.

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  3. Pingback: Germs, for lack of a better word, are good. Germs are right. Germs work. Germs clarify, cut through, and capture, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. | Taking Science to the People

  4. Pingback: Combing the Earth One Genome at a Time: In Pursuit of “The Next Big Thing” in Sustainability | Taking Science to the People


  6. Pingback: Eek! You’re covered with bacteria! (Don’t freak out – turns out everyone is, and they’re good for you) | Ease Into Science

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