Bacteria – in particular gut bacteria – keep blipping on my news radar and feeds recently.
Last week I heard a super interesting “All In The Mind” podcast about bacterial “The secret life of bacteria – small, smart and thoughtful!” [Download the MP3].
Yesterday I heard a fascinating program on NPR about the role of gut bacteria in obesity, “Gut Bacteria May Cause And Fight Disease, Obesity” (you can listen to nthe show via streaming at the link):
“Because the bacteria are independent organisms, they have their own genes and their own talents — and scientists are just now discovering what they can do.
Biologist Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis became quite well known a few years ago for a group of very skinny mice in his lab. The mice were skinny because they had no bacteria in their intestines. Gordon had kept them completely bacteria-free. If a bacteria-free mouse eats, food passes right through the intestine, significantly undigested.
So without bacteria, the mouse can eat and eat and eat and never gain weight. But when Gordon exposed the mice to “this big, bad, dirty world,” as Gibson calls it, the mice suddenly turned their food into more calories and gained weight. So bacteria matter. Apparently, they can digest food far more efficiently.
When Gordon and a bunch of other scientists began to look more closely, they discovered that bacteria are not all alike. There are as many of 500 different species in a normal human intestine and maybe another 500 in our mouths. David Relman of Stanford University discovered that each tooth has its own bacterial community. Dr. Julia Segre at the National Human Genome Research Institute found one set of bacteria on skin at the bend of a human elbow and a completely different set higher up on the arm.
Not surprisingly, a person who grows up in Argentina and another who grows up in northern Alaska tend to acquire different bacteria in their intestines and mouths — and, stunningly, these differences seem to matter.”
Today twitter led me to the term Fecal bacteriotherapy:
“Fecal bacteriotherapy, also known as fecal transfusion, fecal transplant, or human probiotic infusion (HPI), is a medical treatment…which involves restoration of colon homeostasis by reintroducing normal bacterial flora from stool obtained from a healthy donor.”
I think I will stick to those probiotic yoghurts!
The absolute best introduction to the incredible smartness and importance of bacteria comes in at thge begining of Howard Bloom’s must hear lecture “Osama, Michael Jackson, and Group IQ“. The entire lecture is superb, but his introduction to the bacterial group mind is literally staggering (I have to be careful when I listen to Bloom on my iPod, it is so engrossing it should have a do not drive, walk or operate machinery warning).