Nature

Microbes: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them.

December 6, 2016 | Maggie Romuld

microbiologist
Photo credit: www.pixabay.com

We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding and manipulating microbes, but there’s still a long way to go.

You can’t scroll, flip, or sift through the daily news without seeing the words ‘microbe’ or ‘microbiome,’ and there are certainly some intriguing stories out there. In popular science news, there are articles such as: Here's How We'll Terraform Mars With Microbes and Microbes Maketh Man.

READ NEXT: Altering Gut Microbes Could be Key to Curing Anorexia

It is the scholarly news, however, that reveals why science and society have become so enamored with all things micro-bio. Articles such as: Microbial ecosystems therapeutics: a new paradigm in medicine? and Microbes: the chief ecological engineers in reinstating equilibrium in degraded ecosystems hint at the progress we’ve made in understanding the critical roles microbes play, and how we can apply that knowledge.

Microbes are essential to our health and the health of our food crops, and research suggests that many of our current farming and healing practices are disrupting a delicate equilibrium. A recent article in PhysOrg states that “our century-long war on microbes has delivered both major victories and unforeseen consequences.” The authors highlight the issue of “superbugs” that we can no longer kill with conventional antibiotics, as well as the alteration of the human microbiome.

According to a report in BioMed CentralThe Healthy Human Microbiome, “Humans have co-evolved with the trillions of microbes that inhabit our bodies and that create complex, body–habitat-specific, adaptive ecosystems that are finely attuned to relentlessly changing host physiology.” The authors state that disruptions in the ecology of the microbiome “have been associated with numerous diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes (types 1 and 2), allergies, asthma, autism, and cancer.”

Depending on the condition, treatment suggestions range from fairly passive (prebiotics and probiotics) to more aggressive (manipulating intestinal microbiota by fecal microbial transplants). Another novel idea involves disrupting our current pattern of antibiotic use: Using them less to kill infections, and more to “manipulate the mix of bugs within a human, so that good bugs spread at the expense of bad ones.”

Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

You might also be interested in: 99.999% of Microbial Species on Earth Have Not Been Discovered

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