The Human Microbiome

Microorganisms were there before us; they are with us now and will be there after us. Our true ancestors, the anaerobes, have taken shelter in various niches, including the human body. Our intestines are a unique place in which 99.99% of the bacterial flora is anaerobic.EscherichiaColi_NIAID

Recall the process of birth. We are born sterile. We start acquiring microorganisms during the birth process, itself, in which our bodies obtain their microflora via skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat, mouth cavity, gut and genitalia. This microflora makes up our microbiome and is individually associated with us throughout our entire lives.

The particular selection of microorganisms that exist on the human body is not just by chance. It is an evolutionary coexistence that has developed over billions of years. The makeup of all human bodies contains specific organisms. Now, strong evidence is accumulating for the interplay between the human genome and microbiome being the combination that shapes human life. The number of microbes on the human body is ten times more than the number of body cells. We carry approximately a 1014 organisms on our body. This plethora of living animalcules is constantly interacting with our body. The human colon is unique throughout the entire world for having the highest recorded microbial density of 1011–1012 cells/ml, which is unparalleled by any other microbial habitat on Earth. We have only recently started understanding the importance of this association.

A case of Helicobacter pylori is enough to stress the importance of this development. When Barry Marshall, an Australian physician, discovered this organism and made the claim that bacteria cause acid peptic disease, the scientific world almost mocked him. However, we know now the importance of this discovery, and it has nearly abolished an entire branch of surgery. A disease previously treated with knives and scissors is now treated simply with antibiotics.

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This entry was posted in Infectious Disease and tagged , , . Volume: .

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