Published December 23, 2012
42-year-old SWM seeking good bacteria?
There are ten times more microbes living in and on us than human cells in our bodies, a 100-trillion-strong bacterial army that form the human microbiome. And it’s so critical to our health that our future dating profiles may read something like “non-smokers and those with high Lactobacillus acidophilus levels preferred.”
Indeed, the quality of your microbiome can affect your roommate or spouse, positively or negatively, said Dr. Will Ludington, one of the founders of uBiome, a citizen scientist biotech startup.
“Your gut is like the rain forest -- all sorts of different animals live in that ecosystem,” said Jessica Richman, another uBiome co-founder.
And that diversity is essential: We kill and sterilize those critters daily, yet they digest our food, protect us from infections and inoculate our offspring. We wouldn’t last a day without those mighty microbes.
Richman’s startup plans to study the bacterial diversity of 1,000 volunteers by examining their saliva, skin and even stool samples via mail-in kits -- upon completion of its IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. “The kits will go to people with instructions to avoid sample contamination,” Richman told FoxNews.com. “Like, don’t let your dog lick the Q-tips. And yes, we will be sampling people’s poop.”
Understanding what role the microbiome plays in our health is the new science frontier, Richman said. For decades we viewed bacteria as evil germs; now we understand that they are not only beneficial but necessary for our survival.
“Microbes of our biome are not disease-inducing … they are the microbes that our body needs. Those microbes co-evolved with our species,” said Dr. Lita Proctor, a program director of the Human Microbiome Project at The National Institute of Health, which recently published several studies presenting a number of facts previously unknown to medical science.
In one study, scientists found that women’s vaginal microbiome changes significantly during pregnancy -- the female body adjusts its flora to control pathogens and to establish the healthy microbiome of the infant during birth.
“We now recognize that passing through the birth canal is a critical event for the infant to receive its initial inoculum of microbes. The mother’s body assures the infant receives the right inoculum and that means that how the baby is born is very important,” Proctor told FoxNews.com, adding that these findings affect our perspective of the commonly used Caesarian procedure.
“[C-section babies] don’t have the opportunity to receive the inoculum,” she said, adding that while this fact isn’t necessarily good or bad, it represents “unexpected consequences” which medics may want to consider.
“In another study, researchers examined children under three years old who had unexplained fevers and found that the sick kids carried several times more species of viruses than those without fever. Such condition is often treated with antibiotics, but viruses don’t respond to them so prescribing antibacterial meds for viral infections is ineffective and can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
“Now that we know it, we can begin to educate the parents about what those fevers are,” Proctor said. She likened the Human Microbiome Project to visiting another planet and mapping out what’s there. But scientists are still examining why and how the human microbiome varies from person to person and what role it plays in maintaining our health.
“We are not yet at the point where you would go to your doctor next year and let him or her collect your microbiome sample and then go to the store and buy this thing and that thing – we aren’t there yet,” Proctor told FoxNews.com.
Within the next few years, scientists are hoping to continue their microbial quests. “We don’t yet know why certain pathogens make some people sick but not others,” Richman agreed. “We do find pathogenic bacteria in normal healthy people and we don’t know why they are not sick.”
One theory is the healthy people may represent “a well of bacterial balance” so they may act as the healthful bacteria donors to cure the sick, Richman said.
Unlike the human genome which is very difficult to change, our microbiome can be adjusted very easily with probiotics, or even smearing a bacterial compound onto our body. In the future doctors may be able to sample a newborn’s biome and balance his skin with a probiotic gel and his gut flora with a drop of beneficial microorganisms in his formula.
Such innovation may make colic and diaper rashes things of the past.
In the meantime, independent of his uBiome startup, Ludington intends to perform “a personal study” of his soon to be born offspring. “I’m going to collect samples from my own baby,” he told FoxNews.com.
“I’m curious to see how his microbial composition is different compared to mine or my wife’s, and how it changes over time.”