Before I get started on this subject, I want to say that I'm both a layman and a skeptic. I'm not inclined towards magical thinking, nor do I believe that antibiotics are some huge and terrible poison that has ruined mankind. Antibiotics have saved countless lives, possibly even my own. But in learning of the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics and the resultant strains of viruses and bacteria that are immune to antibiotics, I've learned a little bit about microbiomes, the fascinating little microscopic organisms that inhabit different parts of the body.
Mostly discussed in articles focusing on the "gut biomes" that live in the stomach, microbiomes are the organisms that live inside of us and might make up a large part of our body! Comprised of bacteria, viruses, fungi, these organisms are now believed to be a big part of our immunity system and are considered to be a significant factor in future medical studies.
In short, we are comprised of more microbiomes than human cell structures. Most of the scientists and TED presenters I've been digging into say we're somewhere around 43% native human cells and the rest is the organisms that live inside us. We' begin picking these fun little symbiotes all the way back at birth, where the way we're delivered into the world can affect the microbiomes that we start life with. Those microbiomes help us develop our immune systems and regulate a lot of long term issues, including obesity and mental health.
To study microbiomes, scientists are using lab mice raised in 100% sterile conditions and swapping the microbiomes from mice exhibiting other conditions into the test mice. The experiments show that the test mice begin to pick up immunities and vulnerabilities similar to the mice whose microbiomes they're introduced to! This could mean important things for the future medical technology, as giving a person with various illnesses the intestinal flora of someone with resistance to those conditions can go a long way to improving their health. It also means that antibiotics may target healthy intestinal flora as well as infections, which could have devastating long term effects.
While microbiomes aren't always beneficial - studies are looking into their relationship with intestinal cancers, inflammation of the stomach and bowels, and other diseases - they are a major part of the body and scientists are researching all their fascinating secrets.
Check out the TED talk below from microbiologist Rob Knight.