Of Guts and Glory
Even in solitude, our bodies are walking, talking communities of thousands of species of bacteria and other micro-organisms that live in our mouths, on our skin, and in our guts.
The human body is made up of about 10 trillion cells, but these are far outnumbered by the 100 trillion cells belonging to the integral microbes in and on our bodies. Known collectively as the microbiome, these organisms aid digestion and potentially contribute to a startling array of other functions: influencing weight and metabolism, switching allergies on or off, and affecting mental health.
Scientists say an individual’s microbial community is shaped by a host of factors, including genes, diet, medications, even the pets he or she owned as a child. As a result, each person has his or her own blend of resident microorganisms as distinctive as a fingerprint, which researchers predict may one day help solve crimes.
New computational tools mean researchers can process huge volumes of data to measure the number and type of these bacteria more quickly and cheaply. As a result, “the field of microbiota has exploded,” says W. Allan Walker, MD, founder of the division of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.
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