There are indigenous species in decline and many face rapid extinction. Never before have they been subjected to current environmental and chemical disturbances. Where is this happening? Inside your body.
Microbial cells are organisms that have evolved with humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Although tiny in size, they outnumber human cells 10 to 1. Rather scary, if you think about it. Due to recent changes in sanitation and antibacterial medication, however, there has been a rapid eradication of many types of microbes.
So what, you say? Evidence from rodent experiments has found traditional microbes to be an important line of defense against external invaders. Furthermore, retaining Helicobacter pylori has shown to implicate lower risks of childhood asthma, allergic rhinitis and skin allergies, although its elimination can reduce incidences of gastric cancer. In other words, stemming from its symbiosis relation, microbes have prominent protection advantages for humans that we might have taken for granted.
Nonetheless, due to potential harms of microbes, understanding the human microbiota system is a complex task. One project that currently seeks to clarify our relationship with our evolutionary buddies is the Human Microbiome Project, conducted by the National Institutes of Health. Although in its infancy, the progress on human microbes has researchers very excited. Betsy Foxman, of the Department of Epidemiology at University of Michigan, says "it's going to be a wild ride [with] lots of surprises."
In the words of Martin Blaser, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford School of Medicine, "if you're a good parent you should have your children eat dirt." Although this should not been taken literally, it resonates the idea that being a bit dirty can be a good thing, especially if it retains important residents of yours, as creepy as that might sound.
- blog authored by Kevin Li