Our Inner Microbes

Scientists have long known that many organisms evolved with humans and perform vital functions, digesting food, extracting crucial nutrients and fighting off disease-causing entities.

“We feed them and house them, and they perform certain metabolic functions for us that we have sort of contracted out,” said Martin J. Blaser of the New York University School of Medicine. “The homeboys protect their turf from invaders.”

But as microbiologists have begun scrutinizing these colonies, it has become clearer that they create carefully calibrated enterprises, with unique combinations inhabiting individual crevices and identifiable nuances from person to person.

“We just don’t pick up willy-nilly any microbe in the soil or air we encounter,” Relman said.

European scientists reported in April that people generally seem to have one of three basic combinations that may be as fundamentally important as, say, blood type.

The five-year, $175 million U.S. Human Microbiome Project is assembling an outline of a “healthy” microbiome by sampling the mouth, airway, skin, gut and urogenital tract of 300 healthy adults, as well as deciphering the genetic codes of 200 possibly key microbes.

Dozens of studies also are underway, including some in which children and adults, including twins, are repeatedly swabbed to gain insights into why one person gets tooth decay, asthma, ulcerative colitis or even cancer, and another doesn’t.

“We’re using microbes as markers for the onset of various diseases or progression of diseases,” said Karen E. Nelson, who runs the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville. “We think we’re going to have a huge impact on health.”

One intriguing finding is that babies born through Caesarean section apparently miss out on acquiring their mothers’ ­microbiota.

Article Source: swcta.net