Why Germs Can Be Good for You
To anyone who's recently gotten over the flu (or something much worse), germs are the root of all evil. But it turns out billions of these microbes live in peaceful coexistence with the rest your body. In fact, viruses, microorganisms, and bacteria outnumber normal human cells 10:1.
Today the 200 members of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium published 16 different papers based on five years of research, with results ranging from the genetic sequence of common microbes to descriptions of new bacteria. And for the first time ever, they've made a map of the microbes found in the body, identifying between 81 and 99% of all microorganisms.
Testing 242 healthy volunteers, researchers collected tissue from 15 body parts on males and 18 on females. After analyzing the DNA of these tissues, doctors found that these microbes aren't there by chance--they help us survive. They help our body by:
- Digesting and get nutrients from food
- Teaching our immune system to fight dangerous germs
- Making and releasing anti-inflammatory compounds
Even more interesting, though each volunteer's microbes performed similar functions, he or she had a different combination of microbes and those microbes had different genetic makeups. More importantly, the researchers realized that each person had a very fragile balance of microbes, and disrupting this balance by taking too many antibiotics or being obsessively tidy may compromise your immune functioning.
The researchers agree that they simply scratched the surface of the research, but they're hopeful it can help doctors better understand our bodies are affected by various chronic and acute illnesses.
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Image courtesy of NIH Medical Arts and Printing