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:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 12-01-2014
Our microbiome, the bacteria that populate our bodies, is so essential for our well being that it can be thought of as an extension of ourselves; akin to another organ. There is much that can be learned through studying the human microbiome, and medical science has begun to utilize microbial therapy to treat numerous medical conditions (see Repoopulating the Gut).
Despite the positive reports surrounding treatments such as fecal therapy, western civilization continues to view all bacteria, (both good and bad), as a mortal enemy of human civilization. In an article written in this blog back in 2012, we discussed how our obsession with antibiotics, cleanliness and antibacterial soaps may be posing a significant danger to our health (see Death by Sterility). Nonetheless, a recent study at San Diego State University demonstrated that no matter how hard we try to sterilize our environment, certain bacterial populations can be relied upon to return to their native surroundings despite our best efforts to remove them.
In the article “Ecological succession and viability of human-associated microbiota on restroom surfaces” (Gibbons et al, Applied and Environmental Mircorbiology, 2014), Professor Scott Kelley and his team first decontaminated common bathroom surfaces and then monitored the microbial environment over time. The team found that the same community of bacteria that existed prior to sterilization returned to colonize the sterile surfaces within 5-8 hours post-sterilization. In bathroom surfaces, the bacteria that persisted both pre and post-sterilization were those that are commonly found in the human gut, which indicates that fecal matter is near-impossible to clean from bathroom floors. Interestingly, both male and female bathrooms exhibited similar microbial characteristics with the exception of the toilet seats which showed differentiation based on gender.
All things considered, while our fixation on cleanliness and antimicrobial environments may benefit those who make a living selling household cleaning products, pesky bacteria are harder to get rid of than most detergent companies would have us believe. Furthermore, considering that the human microbiome is so essential for our biological function, we must be careful in deciding how to effectively target bacterial infection without ridding ourselves of the very bacteria that we need to survive.
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-24-2013
The microbiome is your body’s set of microbial communities; microbial cells outnumber human cells roughly ten to one. Through studying the microbiome, scientists are learning more the relationship between these microbes and human health and disease. In looking at the effect of diet on the composition of the gut microbiome, Dr. Nanette Steinle of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and Dr. Emmanuel Mongodin of the University of Maryland Institute of Genome Sciences wanted to determine if the Mediterranean diet would cause changes in an individual’s microbiome. This diet was selected because it has already been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 06-21-2012
In a research study appearing in Cell, Harvard scientists have found that an individual’s microbiome is very species-specific and likely the result of a co-evolutionary process involving the host and its bacterial tenants. Bacteria are important for our survival and any disturbances to our “bacterial make-up” may be harmful to our health. I say our “bacterial make-up” because studies show that we are infested with bacteria and that there are 9-fold more bacteria than there are human cells in our bodies.
While it is well accepted that resident bacteria play an essential role in our optimal health, the current study looked to analyze whether our microbiome is custom made for each individual or whether any bacterial cohort will do.
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 06-02-2011
Perhaps this isn’t the most glamorous title for a post, and considering that I’ve posted twice before on this subject (see fecal pharma and more fecal findings!) it might be assumed that I have a fecal fixation. Let me assure you that despite everyone’s initial “yuck” factor reaction to these stories, they are quite fascinating and potentially life-changing.
As I’ve mentioned previously, our colon’s microbiome plays an essential role in the gut’s health and “happiness.” Disturbances to the tens of thousands of bacteria found in our bodies can have detrimental effects including the development of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. In order to restore gut homeostasis, a technique called fecal transplantation may be employed. Fecal transplantation involves collecting 200-300 grams of fecal matter from healthy donors, filtering out solid particulate, and reintroducing the remaining bacteria to the patient via a colonoscope, an enema or a naso-gastric tube.
A recent study out of the University of Chicago medical center looked at the attitudes and concerns raised by this approach. According to the study’s author, David Rubin, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago:
Once patients get past the yuck factor they find the concept appealing. They perceive it as ‘natural,’ similar to probiotics. Patients with severe inflammatory bowel disease tend to develop a high tolerance for therapies that others might consider unorthodox.
Patients biggest concerns were that they were receiving transplants from healthy donors with healthy dietary habits. Furthermore, patients much preferred to receive the transplantation via colonoscopy or enema than through an oral NG route.
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-15-2010
At the risk of developing a complex that all I talk about is fecal matter, for the second time this week I would like to bring your attention to another study that focuses on the gut and its microbial habitat. A couple of days ago I discussed the challenge of identifying the huge number of microbes found in our bodies and the impact that our microbiome has on our physical health (see fecal pharma post).
In today’s issue of Nature, Alejandro Reyes from Washington University’s school of medicine published a paper showing that although the fecal microbiome is relatively stable between related individuals, the fecal virome exhibits a greater degree of inter-person variability and a lesser degree of intra-person variability. These findings are quite surprising since one would expect bacteriophage expression to be heavily dependent on its microbial environment and therefore to follow a similar pattern to microbial expression. Instead, this study shows that although there were similar microbes in the feces of related individuals their fecal viral expression was quite different. The authors conclude “that a predatory viral-microbial dynamic, manifest in a number of other characterized environmental ecosystems, is notably absent in the very distal intestine.” In other words, our traditional understanding of the relationship between viruses and bacteria in the laboratory setting is challenged when studied in anin-vivo environment.
Below is a this week’s Nature podcast which contains an interview with the study’s principal author Jeffrey Gordon. Scroll over to 15:04 to hear the interview.
This study is especially interesting considering the findings of an Israeli group which was published in Molecular Systems Biology back in October 2009. In that study, the authors showed that bacteriophages are strongly tuned to match their unique hosts while viruses that infect humans resemble all mammalian hosts equally. This seems to support Reyes’ et al. initial hypothesis that since related individuals exhibit a high degree of similarity in their fecal microbial expression it would be expected that inter-personal fecal bacteriophage expression would be similar as well. As such, the Reyes paper has left us with more questions than answers regarding fecal viral expression.
The fecal pharma post demonstrated the importance of microbiome research in the context of human health. Based on Reyes’ findings, those involved in the Human Microbiome Project would be wise to incorporate virome analysis into their research as well.
Alejandro Reyes, Matthew Haynes, Nicole Hanson, Florent E. Angly, Andrew C. Heath, Forest Rohwer, & Jeffrey I. Gordon (2010). Viruses in the faecal microbiota of monozygotic twins and their mothers Nature, 466, 334-338 : 10.1038/nature09199