A friend sent me a great article called “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs” by Michael Pollan about the efforts by a team led by Rob Knight at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder working on something called the American Gut project. The team analyzes the hundreds of microbial species harbored by individuals who agree to participate. As more people are choosing to have their microbiomes (sum of all microbes that live in or on your body) analyzed and genomes sequenced, we are beginning to learn a great deal about the many supportive and protective roles these “germs” (mostly bacteria) play in our health and well-being. From this work a better understanding of obesity, infections, fecal transplants for C diff, training our immune system, and the value of mother’s milk is emerging.
Unfortunately, some aspects of our advanced civilization are limiting the diversity of this amazing population. The biggest single factor is the routine use of antibiotics. Another question raised is how these populations are shaped by our diet, behaviors and (lack of) exposure to the outside environment. The trade off of less exposure to pathogens (bad germs) with improved sanitation vs. having a less diverse population of microbes is also discussed.