How would you feel if someone were to tell you:
- our body is like an Amazon Forest hosting trillions of microorganisms?
- that our body is a repository of as many as 10,000 different species of microbes?
- that these bacteria, viruses and fungi outnumber normal human cells 10:1?
Before you go “eewww” and “gross” it would do well to realise that many of these organisms perform a vital function and work to keep us healthy.
The startling discovery was made a bunch of researchers in the United States who have managed to develop the first genetic reference map of nearly all of the microbes inhabiting healthy humans.
In a five-year, $173 million census of the microbes researchers sampled up to 18 sites on participants’ bodies and looked at everything from saliva to blood, skin and stool.
“This is a whole new way of looking at human biology and human disease,” said Dr Phillip Tarr of Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, which was one of 200 U.S. scientists who took part in the effort, known as the Human Microbiome Project.
However, instead of looking at the path-breaking study for the benefits it can mean for scientists caviling has already begun!
Understanding what makes up a normal microbiome will help doctors better understand the changes that occur when people become sick.
Scientists say this new reference database of microbes in healthy humans will change the way doctors think about infections, moving from a model of one germ causing disease, to thinking about factors that alter the healthy ecosystem of microbes living in people.
And it will help doctors understand why dangerous pathogens living in people sometimes turn deadly.