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December 1st, 2011

The Power Within the Microbiome


Don’t look now, but you’re not alone.  You may think that it’s just you in those clothes, in that body, but it’s not.  Instead, you are a Supraorganism.  Sound scary?  Not really.

A supraorganism is a group of individual organisms that function together.  Imagine all the components of your car: the pistons, the fuel pump, the windshield wipers. They all perform together to make your car run.  Now imagine those car parts are alive.  Essentially, that is a supraorganism.

Scientist are well aware that human beings are built with more than just human parts. We also contain microscopic organisms, such as bacteria.  That’s why the National Institutes of Health launched the Human Microbiome Project.  The project's goal is to categorize all the microscopic organisms living inside humans.

Tina Hesman Saey recently reported for Science News on a German team studying the microbiome.  The Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, Germany has linked the bacteria in the gut to multiple sclerosis.  Using mice, genetically engineered to develop MS, the team discovered that those without gut bacteria never developed the disease.  Using this insight and further research, doctors may someday be able to treat patients with using probiotics – helpful bacteria - to prevent or limit disease.

Mayo Clinic researchers realize the potential of The Human Microbiome Project and have set off to harness its applications.  Mayo’s Microbiome Program – part of its Center for Individualized Medicine - will focus on several different disorders: colon cancer, obesity, preterm labor, diabetes, celiac disease, and wound healing.

For example, Mayo investigators believe that certain microbes living in the colon may give off warning signals before colon cancer develops.  Once these signals are identified doctors can use them to predict risk and identify preventative therapy.

Heidi Nelson, M.D., heads Mayo’s microbiome program. She says one day a preventive adjustment of a patient’s bacterial balance prior to surgery may help reduce risk of infection during recovery. Stay tuned.


Tags: About, bacteria, Center for Individualized Medicine, Findings, Microbiome, Progress Updates


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