Every day you’re becoming more and more like the people who are around you.
Jack Gilbert, professor in the department of surgery at the University of Chicago, details how the sharing of bacteria from person to person could make us healthier in the long run.
Professor Jack A Gilbert earned his Ph.D. from Unilever and Nottingham University, UK in 2002, and received his postdoctoral training at Queens University, Canada. He subsequently returned to the UK in 2005 to Plymouth Marine Laboratory at a senior scientist until his move to Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago in 2010. Currently, Professor Gilbert is in Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago, and is Group Leader for Microbial Ecology at Argonne National Laboratory. He is also Associate Director of the Institute of Genomic and Systems Biology, Research Associate at the Field Museum of Natural History, and Senior Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Dr. Gilbert uses molecular analysis to test fundamental hypotheses in microbial ecology. He has authored more than 200 peer reviewed publications and book chapters on metagenomics and approaches to ecosystem ecology. He is currently working on generating observational and mechanistic models of microbial communities in natural, urban, built and human ecosystems. He is on the advisory board of the Genomic Standards Consortium (www.gensc.org), and is the founding Editor in Chief of mSystems journal. In 2014 he was recognized on Crain’s Business Chicago’s 40 Under 40 List, and in 2015 he was listed as one of the 50 most influential scientists by Business Insider, and in the Brilliant Ten by Popular Scientist.
Diversifying Your Microbiome
Perhaps right now you are in your car with your kids or in your office. In the last hour you have been sharing bacteria with those kids or office mates, in essence you have been becoming more similar.
Each person is shedding 38 million microbes an hour. Each time you interact with people you are picking up some of the microbial thumbprint of your neighbors, which is altering your microbiome. The microbiome is the communities of microorganisms that live in our bodies, or homes – in every ecosystem on earth.
The good news is that when we share bacteria the resulting diverse microbiomes are more robust and resilient. We are finding that some bacteria can protect us from certain illnesses, improve productivity, and remediate conditions such as allergies, asthma, and depression.
The bad news is that our microbiomes have become less diverse and resilient over 150 years of deep-cleansing our homes and bodies with the wide-spread use of antibiotics and sterilization techniques. Living in over-sanitized environments leaves us with microbial gaps that put us at risk when we encounter new microbes. Instead of being able to adapt to these changes we find that the human immune system can over-react as evidenced by gastrointestinal problems, respiratory disease, and even neurological problems.
We are learning a great deal about microbial communities using high-throughput sequencing techniques. Computational sequencing allows us to identify, map, and predict the behavior of these microbes. We have shown that when we interact broadly with each other and in the outdoors we diversify our microbiome, which actually makes us more able to fight off the harmful bacteria and viruses.
Kids who play in the dirt, dogs who track bacteria from the outdoors inside, and social practices like kissing and handshakes may actually help us to become healthier overall.