Could a Microbe Transplant Make You Thinner? (And Other Amazing Things About Bacteria and Antibiotics)


By Meredith Salisbury

We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome–the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies–but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us. These advances were made possible just in the past decade by the latest DNA sequencers and other technologies that can scan and analyze huge numbers of microbes at a time. This understanding may enable radical new techniques for weight control, among other revolutionary implications.

You may have heard this statistic about the number of cells in your body: for every human cell, there are an estimated 10 bacterial cells, making you approximately 10 percent human. But you probably haven’t heard this one: for every human gene in your body, there are at least 100 bacterial genes, making you less than 1 percent human. In short, we may play only a bit part in the global function of ourselves.

For example: did you know that you’ve been taking heavy-duty antibiotics virtually every day of your life? That may seem incredible to those of us who steer clear of Z-Paks, but new studies reveal that it’s true. Michael Fischbach, a scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, has turned his attention to the biological products microbes are contributing to their human environment. As it turns out, many of these microbes are synthesizing molecules and releasing them into our gut or any other part of our body they colonize. Scientists don’t yet know what all of these molecules do, but Fischbach’s analysis shows that many of them are antibiotics–essentially, each microbe’s attempt to control the populations of competing microbes around it.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since studies of other environments have taught us that microbes are in a constant —> Read More