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Welcome to the Microbiome: Getting to Know the Trillions of Bacteria and…

de Rob Desalle

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Revolutionary research is revealing how the trillions of microbes living on and in our bodies can keep us healthy . . . or make us sick   Suddenly, research findings require a paradigm shift in our view of the microbial world. The Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health is well under way, and unprecedented scientific technology now allows the censusing of trillions of microbes inside and on our bodies as well as in the places where we live, work, and play. This intriguing, up-to-the-minute book for scientists and nonscientists alike explains what researchers are discovering about the microbe world and what the implications are for modern science and medicine.     Rob DeSalle and Susan Perkins illuminate the long, intertwined evolution of humans and microbes. They discuss how novel DNA sequencing has shed entirely new light on the complexity of microbe-human interactions, and they examine the potential benefits to human health: amazing possibilities for pinpoint treatment of infections and other illnesses without upsetting the vital balance of an individual microbiome.   This book has been inspired by an exhibition, The Secret World Inside You: The Microbiome, at the American Museum of Natural History, which will open in New York in early November 2015 and run until August 2016. It will then travel to other museums in the United States and abroad.  … (mais)
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Welcome to the Microbiome is clearly divided into two. The first half of the book is the history of bacteria, microbes and viruses. It is a biology lesson. Despite the title, only the last half - 110 pages - is about the microbiome. That’s how little we know about it.

A microbiome is any place on or in our bodies where microbes, bacteria and viruses gather. It could be an armpit, any of the orifices, or the internal organs. Bacteria are the oldest forms of life and have involved themselves in every kind of more sophisticated being. From the oceans to the air, we all share their presence. They are useful and necessary. Even the dangerous ones have useful functions (we usually don’t know about). We kill them off with antibiotics. We prevent babies from receiving their starter dose by removing them surgically instead of having them pass through the birth canal. Mostly, we have no idea what role they play and how removing one affects the whole being. For the human mouth alone, “We have no taxonomy for three quarters of the organisms living there.”

Along the way, we learn that they communicate by quorum sensing; the group recognizes situation and action. There are 10 billion microbial cells per milliliter in the lower large intestine and colon, by far the highest density. Major organs are not sterile, but teeming with microbes. And the differences between microbiomes on the same human body are far greater than the differences between communities of humans.

Unfortunately, it seems researchers are making the same mistakes again. They are isolating individual microbes and testing them in mice to see what effect they might have. In addition to mice not being human, we have learned to our cost that reductivism of this sort does not pay. Microbes, like chemicals, will have different effects depending on their environments and the other chemical compounds also present. Their reaction and co-operation produce innumerable results we are not considering. It has already proven true that adding or removing a single bacterium type has unintended consequences far beyond our expectations. We have released 88,000 chemical compounds into the air, soil and water since WWII, and we have never tested most of them alone, let alone in combination. We see the results today: 75% of cancers are environmental and are now the number two cause of death. Compare that to billions of bacteria we haven’t even named. They at least ,are there for a specific reason.

So while Welcome to the Microbiome has some interesting factoids to share, it is far from being authoritative, let alone comprehensive.

David wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Sep 25, 2015 |
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Revolutionary research is revealing how the trillions of microbes living on and in our bodies can keep us healthy . . . or make us sick   Suddenly, research findings require a paradigm shift in our view of the microbial world. The Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health is well under way, and unprecedented scientific technology now allows the censusing of trillions of microbes inside and on our bodies as well as in the places where we live, work, and play. This intriguing, up-to-the-minute book for scientists and nonscientists alike explains what researchers are discovering about the microbe world and what the implications are for modern science and medicine.     Rob DeSalle and Susan Perkins illuminate the long, intertwined evolution of humans and microbes. They discuss how novel DNA sequencing has shed entirely new light on the complexity of microbe-human interactions, and they examine the potential benefits to human health: amazing possibilities for pinpoint treatment of infections and other illnesses without upsetting the vital balance of an individual microbiome.   This book has been inspired by an exhibition, The Secret World Inside You: The Microbiome, at the American Museum of Natural History, which will open in New York in early November 2015 and run until August 2016. It will then travel to other museums in the United States and abroad.  

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