You and your bacteria

Given the headline of this article

In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

I was hoping to read that science was now suggesting that my overall very good health was largely a result of my great little microbiome I’ve been cultivating.  Despite the headline, that’s not actually where the story seemed to go.  Interestingly, nonetheless:

In a new five-year federal endeavor, the Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared to the Human Genome Project, 200 scientists at 80 institutionssequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people.

They discovered more strains than they ever imagined — as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person’s. To the scientists’ surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

The results, published on Wednesday in Nature and three PLoS journals, are expected to change the research landscape.

Over the past academic year I’ve managed to avoid a number of illnesses that have waylaid most, if not all, the members of my family other than me.  This past week every kid had a nasty cough and/or runny nose and Kim lost her voice.  I’ve been fine.  My mom rarely got sick (until that damn cancer at the end) so I’ve always assumed I’ve been fortunate to inherit a good immune system (and I figure my significant increase in the fruits and vegetable I eat ever since starting weight watchers can’t hurt either).   I’m sure all those help, but interesting to think that the many species of bacteria with which I share my body may be part of the key.  Also, I’ve never messed with them by taking an antibiotic.

Oh, and I almost forgot, of all I’ve read about bacteria in recent years, somehow I never came across this disgusting/fascinating factoid which I’m sure I’ll do all I can to spread around:

“The gut is not jam-packed with food; it is jam-packed with microbes,” Dr. Proctor said. “Half of your stool is not leftover food. It is microbial biomass.” [emphasis mine]  But bacteria multiply so quickly that they replenish their numbers as fast as they are excreted.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to You and your bacteria

  1. mike says:

    I read about a similar study. Some of the bacteria was thought to be unhealthy.

    So they have tried poop transplants. Its been successful for some people.

    Just thought I’d share that little tidbit.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Oh, yeah, I’ve read/heard about the fecal transplants. Equally parts gross and fascinating. I’ve got a good friend (and reader of this blog) whom I’m pretty convinced would stand a good chance of benefiting.

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