The Edmond Sun

Opinion

August 9, 2012

The microscopic zoo within us

WIRE — Taken together, the microbes living in you weigh a few pounds. And within our bodies we have more than 10,000 different species of microbes. That’s a lot of different life forms, all co-existing with each other and with us.

Those arresting facts got my attention when scientists from the government’s Human Microbiome Project recently announced some of their research findings. My friend Dr. Phil Mixter of the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University helped this rock head digest the news of the research.

A lot of the microbes you are carrying around live in your guts, some live on your skin, others up your nose.

Carting around pounds worth of little “bugs” isn’t as bad as it may sound. Four out of five microbes are likely beneficial to us.

Interestingly, the study found that most people have low levels of some harmful types of bacteria in them, organisms that can cause certain infections.

That raises questions that motivate scientists who work in this area: what makes some people fall sick due to certain microbes while others carry them around but don’t get ill – and may even benefit from their presence?

Another fun fact made clear by recent studies is that the microbes in you and me are as different as our fingerprints. You’ve got more of one microbe in you than I do, but less of another. The total “zoo” of microbes we carry around within us varies according to diet and even where we live.

One way to change your internal zoo is to take antibiotics. They kill off a number of microbes. If you’re lucky, that will include any organisms making you ill, but you’ll also lose some of the “good” organisms that you harbor within you. The beneficial bacteria in your gut, for example, will likely take a direct hit.

“While broad-spectrum antibiotics are useful in treating certain infections, it’s also clear such treatment can disrupt our beneficial microbes,” Mixter said.

Another important point is that microbes are far from passive passengers, just riding around on us.

“They are metabolically active,” Dr. Phillip Tarr, one of the lead researchers who performed the study, said to the media. “We now have to reckon with them like we have to reckon with the ecosystem in a forest or a body of water.”

The microbes living on and in you vary a lot by what part of your body they call home. Your guts have one flourishing community of microbes, your nose another.

The recent study surveyed the microbes on specific locations in many individuals using DNA typing. Microbes are very diverse on all persons and carry literally millions of microbial genes -– many more than are in the genetic makeup of an individual. And some of the genes are useful to us: it looks like genes from bacteria in our intestines help lead to the digestion of certain fats and proteins. We couldn’t function well without them.

Let’s here it for our little internal zoos, hard at work within us each day.

E. KIRSTEN PETERS was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Her column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014

  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014

  • Holding government accountable for open meeting violations

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.

    July 21, 2014

  • GUEST OPINION — Oklahoma GOP voters want educational choices

    A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.

    July 21, 2014

  • HEY HINK: IRS interferes with citizens’ rights of free speech

    The patient is gravely ill. We have detected traces of a deadly venom in the bloodstream. We don’t know how widespread the poison is, but we know, if not counteracted, toxins of this kind can rot the patient’s vital organs and could ultimately prove fatal.

    July 19, 2014

Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
     View Results