Reproducing for life - the exploding number of microbiome studies
This is a guest post by Fabian Geyer. He is part of the communication team of BIOMES.
Phrases such as "You are what you eat" or "The human body is home for more than twice as many microorganisms than body cells" are often used when you read about the microbiome. The second genome as it is also called. So not only are we determined by our DNA, but further controlled by our bacteria? Well, more or less. In contrast to our genetic disposition, we can influence our body's own bacterial composition. In a positive as well as negative way. Let’s for a minute ignore the fact that we are already able to alter the DNA of our offsprings in purely technological terms.
The topic of microbiome has not yet arrived in conventional medicine
The microbiome has long been a trend in science. It is attracting more and more attention in the public. It has not yet made its way into conventional medicine, though - for various reasons. The number of microbiome studies has risen rapidly in the last 21 years; we are talking about a five-digit number in total (see chart). Once the human genome had been more or less deciphered, the focus was increasingly on deciphering the bacterial genome. Thanks to continuously developing DNA sequencing methods, the genome of a living being could be determined more and more precisely.
The number of microbiome studies has risen rapidly in the last 21 years:
The exploration of the microbial cosmos will continue for many more years
High-throughput sequencing is still state-of-the-art technology for DNA analysis in humans as well as in microorganisms. Since the world of microorganisms, in particular bacteria, can almost be described as a cosmos, it is understandable that its investigation took some time and will continue for many years to come. Scientists suspect several million, if not hundreds of millions of distinguishable microorganisms at the lowest taxonomic level ("strain").
There has been a veritable explosion of microbiome studies over the last 5 years
The human microbiome has been researched to a remarkable extent to date. Due to its growing importance for the human organism, more and more financial resources were put into this field of research. A large number of scientific and clinical studies were and are carried out using public as well as private funds. There has been a veritable explosion of microbial studies over the last 5 years. In combination with the technological developments since the 1990s and their refinements in the following years, the microbiome as a field of research gained a trending status.
Sick? No biggie. There is medication for everything.
Among the public there seems to be a growing awareness for this matter. People have (again) begun to live and eat more consciously, the fitness and healthy diet trend does not cease. A lifestyle backed by science. Only 20-30 years ago, people were pretty much led by what was offered by the industry. The modern lifestyle with full-time jobs for men and women no longer allowed people to cook a fresh meal every other day. Sick? No biggie. There is medication for everything. Food was and is available on nearly every corner in bigger cities. For lunch break a frozen meal would do just fine as well. Nutrition studies took a little while to show long-term damage caused by stress and and poor diet. Today we know that the majority of today's diseases, most of them bear a western hallmark, result from the wrong diet. In the meanwhile, WHO has put it at the top of the list of causes for chronic diseases.
Industrialisation, technology and commerce were at the expense of human health
There has long been a noticeable health trend in the population. Thanks to the reliable scientific basis this is more than understandable and by now it's probably better to call it “health awareness“. Industrialisation, increased use of technology and commercialisation have shaped modern society to a great extent. The fact that this was at the expense of people's health has become more and more obvious. The importance of the microbiome is part of a new awareness moving away from excessive medication, poor nutrition, stress, lethargy and increasing urbanisation.
Public healthcare systems have not yet quite arrived in present time
Clearly, no one would argue that there is an upside to the rise of technology and commercial aspects as the healthcare industry shows; many public healthcare systems, on the other hand, have not yet quite arrived in present time. Today, there are so many possibilities for preventive action, exploration and tracking. The nutrients we ingest, the steps we take every day. So it is only natural that we also want to inform ourselves about our very own bacterial composition. Thanks to the novel technology and the corresponding knowledge, it is now possible to analyse and track these numbers, too. The potential to market health has been exploited for quite some time. The analysis of the microbiome has become part of this potential since it provides valuable insights into our overall health. There are private companies worldwide that carry out microbial analyses, some of them in addition to human DNA tests. No doctor or therapist needed. A new way of exploring oneself. And since such analyses are aimed both at people with complaints and at people who want to explore and optimise themselves, the demand is high. If it wasn't for the private sector we would probably not experience such a research boom in this field.
We are not alone
Some people are afraid of the world of microorganisms. For some, it is a sign that they are not alone, that one can only make it together - in healthy symbiosis with one's environment. Could it be that the essential really is invisible to the eye?