Bacteria in lab

Bacteria: friends or foes?


At the close of the 19th century, in the story "The War of the Worlds", author HG Wells wrote about Martians that invaded the earth yet succumbed to our planet’s bacteria and viruses. The Martians had long since eradicated micro-organisms from their own planet, only to die due to their lack of immunity to those on ours.

Even today some say bacteria will inherit the earth. It’s a nod to their resilience, and also a wry observation about their ability to outwit scientists’ ongoing attempts to wipe them out. But what if instead of trying to see off the bugs, we harnessed them, or redirected the role they play and made them work for us, instead of against us?

Care in the community

This, in essence, is the basis of the work that scientists are currently doing with microbiomes, the term used to describe the community of bacteria and micro-organisms that co-exist in the human body. Our bodies have ten times more bacteria on and in them than we have human cells. They can be found in places such as the skin, the gut and the mouth, and their significance in many chronic diseases is just beginning to be understood.

In a recent Nature Biotechnology interview, and a paper in Drug Development Research, GSK scientists discussed the gut microbiome and how it has been linked to the development of conditions including obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is growing research evidence that the composition of micro-organisms in the guts of obese and lean animals are different. Scientists have even been able to make lean mice obese by giving them gut microbes from an obese mouse. And they've even managed to produce the same results in mice by giving them microbes from obese human subjects1.

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Our bodies have ten times more bacteria in and on them than human cells

So rather than eradicate the bug - as HG Wells’ Martians did on their home planet with disastrous results - perhaps we need to find a better way to work with them. They could yet have an overwhelming impact on human health.

Sources

1 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v500/n7464/full/500505d.html

2 The Microbiome as a Therapeutic Target for Metabolic Diseases Deepak K. Rajpal1, James R. Brown2, *Article first published online: 11 JUL 2013 DOI: 10.1002/ddr.21088

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