Unleashing Opportunities Hidden in the Human Biome

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Unleashing Opportunities Hidden in the Human Biome

Our bodies contain ten times more bacteria than cells. There are an estimated 3.3 million total genes in the DNA bacteria. That is 160 times the number of human genes.

In May 2016, the US government launched a National Microbiome Initiative with an overall budget of half a billion dollars, while the EU is funding more than 300 projects related to the microbiome.

Our intestines host about one kilogram of bacteria which help to digest and metabolize food, produce vitamins and protect us from infections.

The bacteria in this complex ecosystem are called the “gut microbiota,” which includes at least 1000 difference species.

Research indicates that individuals have a sort of “microbial identity,” or bacterial fingerprint. Each person has a different proportion of bacterial species and strains in his or her gut. Experts estimate that about a quarter of the microbiota is unique to each individual, but it’s difficult to give a precise estimate.

Also, we know that our genome influences our “gut flora.” We don’t yet know how it works, but at least some features of our microbiota are associated with our DNA.

Diet also matters. What happens when people radically modify their diet? For instance, when an omnivore becomes vegan, it changes her microbial identity.

Scientists are only beginning to appreciate the significance and complexity of the bacteria comprising the microbiota, which number approximately 30 trillion, or about ten times the number of human cells in the body. Colonization of the body by a vast array of microbes begins at birth, when a newborn is exposed to maternal vaginal, fecal and skin flora.

Most of the human microbiota resides in the gut. Many different species exist, though most fall into several well-recognized groups. Emerging research suggests the composition of these microbes exerts a profound influence on human health throughout life, including the propensity for obesity and the susceptibility to allergies. They may even affect behavior.

New research is now examining cooperation and competition between the human and non-human cells within the body, that is, between the cells making up human tissues and organs and the multitude of microbes co-existing in the same individual. Cooperative behavior between humans and gut microflora occurs when bacterial cells produce energy and vitamins and help to screen out pathogens threatening the host...

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