Cultivating the human microbiome (the microbes in our body follow patterns observed in larger ecosystems)

Cultivating the human microbiome
Marissa Fessenden on June 6th, 2012 No Comments

In a sense, our body is not our own. Microbes living in and around us
outnumber our own human cells ten to one. A review in a special issue
of Science leverages ecological theory to explore these most intimate

The authors, led by Stanford’s David Relman, MD, examine scientists’
understanding of how our microbial communities vary over time. They
compare a newborn to communities moving into a newly created habitat
(in ecology the common example is a new island), a human after
antibiotic treatment to a disturbed habitat (a forest after a fire)
and a person infected by a pathogen to a habitat under invasion from a
foreign species.

This is not the first time experts have argued the microbes in our
body follow patterns observed in larger ecosystems. That thinking has
also led to a call for epidemiologists to learn ecology as a way to
consider the microorganisms that live inside us.

The paper concludes with a challenge to the traditional perspective of
the human body as “a battleground on which physicians attack pathogens
with increasing force, occasionally having to resort to a scorched-
earth approach to rid a body of disease.” Instead, the authors suggest
clinicians could cultivate the human microbiome like park managers,
encouraging conditions that favor good microbes instead of bad. By
measuring biomarkers constantly, doctors could track the progress of
disease and treatment. “Such an information-intensive approach, guided
by ecological theory, has the potential to revolutionize the treatment
of disease,” they write.

Previously: Contemplating how our human microbiome influences personal
health and New York Times explores our amazing microbes
Photo by Eek