Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Microbes in Our Guts

In the December 17, 2010 issue of Science was great in summing up the past year's events. One article was about all the microbes we have in our gut. I have been using sterilizer for a while, even before it became common in libraries, schools and gyms. I saw a news show portion weeks ago about how it is not good to overuse it, since we may then not build up immunity to microbes on our own, and since we have many microbes in us anyway.

I thought of that when I read the Science article by Elizabeth Pennisi. She talked about 200 Nobel Laureate's Joshua Lederberg's call to think of organisms like us with many tiny ones living symbiotically with us as superorganisms, rather than the we are good and they are bad usual thinking.

I was amazed to read that nine out of 10 dells in our body are microbial! This is more than I had thought. Only a few species of them make us sick. Others help us digest food and serve other functions as well. In 1999 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, David Relman and others found 3,956 types of bacteria, two-thirds new to science, in culture from human gums. Does this make you want to kiss anyone? In 2006, Steven Gill of the University in Buffalo, New York and in 2010 Jun Wang of BGI-Shenzhen in China did genetic studies to show that many gut bacteria genes complement our own and so together break down fiber, amino acids and drugs. This is fascinating.

Some bacteria help us fight disease. For instance Faecalibacterium prausnitzii has anti-inflammatory properties and may protect us against Crohn's disease. According to Sarkis Mazmanian of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Baceteroides fragilis keeps mice from getting colitis. Other bacteria form healthy gut cured diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile. Bacteria can protect against other bacteria and viruses. Herbert Virgin of Washington University School of Medicine found that dormant herpesviruses pushed the immune system of mice to protect them against certain bacterial infections.

The more researchers learn about this, the more they can use bacteria and viruses, or their genetic material, to prevent and fight disease, and also to help humans and animals in their bodily functions. I am so excited about the new genetics building opening up shortly at New York University!

Disclaimer: None of the above information can be taken as a substitute for advice from a medical professional such as a physician.

My third book, Pocket Guide to Fitness, is available on,, and If you look up my name on those Web sites, you will find my other books The Boy in a Wheelchair and Life, Work and Play: Poems and Short Stories.

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