The human body is one of the most fascinating and puzzling ecosystems in the universe, a complex community of cells, germs and microbes that is still being mapped and decoded. Recent discoveries in this field have caused scientists to reevaluate the way we look at our internal functions, and perhaps we aren’t as much ourselves as we would like to believe. The relationship between the person and the 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit them is no longer being looked at as that of host and parasite, but a symbiotic relationship that makes every human more of a walking colony than a single entity. In fact, for every human cell there are about 10 microbic cells; the germs don’t just inhabit us, they outnumber us. From The New York Times:
Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, suggests that we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.” This humbling new way of thinking about the self has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked. Disorders in our internal ecosystem — a loss of diversity, say, or a proliferation of the “wrong” kind of microbes — may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections. “Fecal transplants,” which involve installing a healthy person’s microbiota into a sick person’s gut, have been shown to effectively treat an antibiotic-resistant intestinal pathogen named C. difficile, which kills 14,000 Americans each year.
This isn’t just an ego check for the human race, its a medical revolution. The microbes that inhabit us play a crucial role in training the body to function and reject harmful viruses and pathogens, and the control of these microbes (through techniques like the aforementioned fecal transplants) could potentially open up a whole new way to fight everything from poor immunity to terminal disease. Although the scientists working on the forefront of these discoveries are careful not to make such grandiose claims, it seems as though the future of medicine may lie in the human race’s ability to understand our plurality.