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January 12, 2016

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5 Things Most People Don’t Know About the Microbiome

Dogs Unify All

Have you ever noticed that when there’s a cute dog waiting outside of a shop for its owner, passers by can’t resist stopping and petting the  irresistible canine?

Dogs are wonderful transporters of bacteria. They do so by getting into everybody’s business. They sit on you, lick you, lie on your bed, and then everyone touches them. This activity spreads bacteria to all individuals in the family. As a result, when the microbiome of a family with a dog versus without a dog is examined, the dog owners are much more likely to have a similar bacterial picture.

It’s Everywhere!

There is a lot of talk these days about the gut microbiome. However, did you know that there are not only bacteria that live in your gut, but they also live on all mucous membranes and all over the outside of your body. Not only that, but different bacteria prefer different locations. There are specific bacteria that live on your hands, and different ones that enjoy the environment behind your knee. And there are different ones that live in your armpits (these actually like to consume sweat, and produce byproducts, which people identify as “body odour”). In addition, if you sterilize an area with alcohol or disinfectant, their colony will return to normal within hours.

By Darryl Leja, NHGRI [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Darryl Leja, NHGRI [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Be Careful Who You Kiss

Dating just got a lot more complicated. Most people choose their partner based on how they get along with them. People are attracted to like-minded individuals with similar interests, values, sense of humour, passion, and even appearance. But how many people are considering the others microbiome?

If a couple is going to take part in the old past-time of kissing, their partners oral microbiome is something they might want to consider. During a 10-second kiss, about 80 million bacteria are transferred from one individual to the other.

I wonder if this transfer could influence the health of the other individual. We know that a virus or bacteria causing a flu or cold can transfer easily in saliva. What’s not to say that there are other health consequences of this intimate activity, good or bad. Perhaps we’ll see more studies on this in the future.

kiss_quote

We Are Outnumbered and Outplayed

You might think that you have control over everything you do, but in fact, the research is pointing to the bacteria in your gut as having most of the control. We are outnumbered ten-to-one, bacteria to human cells. (Although this theory, that has been cited regularly since the 70s is in question. Stay tuned) . This abundance of symbiotic bacteria have profound impacts on physiology. Everything from how we digest our food, to whether we become obese, to our moods at any given moment.

A Good bacteria in One Person Can be Harmful in Another

As mentioned above, there are over 100 trillion bacteria in us and on us and there are up to one-thousand different species in these colonies. That makes this area of study a very challenging task.

We like to try and simplify things in science and say that certain things are “bad” and certain things are “good”. But when it comes to gut bacteria, their story gets a little bit more complicated.

Most people know of the two main strains of bacteria known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These have been shown to be very beneficial for most individuals. However, there are other strains that have different effects in different people.

Much of what we know about the microbiome, and thus conclusions, have come out of research in the west and developed countries. As such, bifidobacterium has been deemed a beneficial player.

On the flip side, a bacteria known as treponema, can have detrimental effects on an individuals health, and has been associated with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. However, the Hadza, an indigenous tribe in western Tanzania, don’t have either of these diseases, and have an abundance of treponema. This is a great example of how it’s not so much the bacteria, but more the environment in which the bacteria lives that’s important.

Maybe there’s more to the microbiome than we can currently fully understand, such as diet, environment, history, and genetics. Only time will tell, as more research emerges and more distinctions are made.