While some might say we live in the “Genomic Age,” there are so many fascinating dimensions to what makes us human beyond the sequence of our As, Ts, Gs and Cs. To name a few: Epigenetics, environmental impacts, and the trillions of microbial creatures that live on our skin and in our guts. We have more microbial cells than human cells – and the microbes in our guts can weight up to 3 pounds!
The microbiome is the highly variable collection of bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms that live in and on humans. The scientific community is starting to piece together the ways that our microbiome may impact our health and behavior, and is seeking to understand the role our microbes might have in increasingly common health issues like obesity and asthma.
The American Gut project seeking to create a map of the microbes living on us and in us, and Your Wild Life is looking to understand what is taking up residence in your home, and even trying to understand what lives in our armpits. Fecal transplants have proven to show promise for helping people whose gut microbes have been damaged and need to be repopulated to restore one’s health.
Want to know more? These two articles, one from the Smithsonian Magazine and the other from the New York Times Magazine are excellent resources. Full of interviews with leading scientists and doctors, the message is clear: The microbes we carry certainly impact many aspects of our physical well being, and this is a field with an enormous amount of potential – and also risk for overhype and oversimplification. Both articles above talk about these issues, and we feel include a good diversity of voices and opinions. We find the microbiome, when included in a larger discussion about biological complexity, is a great way to get students excited – no easy feat for late May!