Sunday, June 3, 2012

Microbes in the Modern World - Dr. Karen Guillemin

In the third installment of Microbes in the Modern World, Dr. Karen Guillemin was asked to speak on the microbes that we harbor inside our bodies.  She spoke on the history of the study between man and microbe as well as the current understanding or the relationship, questions raised and the experimental approaches’ to answering our inquires. 

In the brief history she mention Antoni van Leeuwenboek and the invention of the microscope and how this was the transition from the concept that the human body was a sterile place, to an ecosystem teeming with life.  Next she spoke on  Robern Kock and the germ theory of disease in 1877 followed by Alexander Fleming and the invention of penicillin and antibiotics. 

After a brief reintroduction of the previous talks by Dr. Brendan Bohannan and Dr. Jessica Green on April 17th and May 8th ( Guillemin posed a series of questions of the interaction between humans and microbes: what are the microbes in our bodies determined by: exposure/diet/genetic make up; what is the stability of our gut microbiota; does it change over our lifetime or over generations;  can changes in microbiota cause disease?

To explore this topic she discussed research done on infants, on how the method of birth dictates what types of microbiota the child has and also how breast milk contains sugars that feeds only the child’s gut microbes.  Studies involving mice found that mice that ate a balance diet rather than a western diet had a larger amount of diversity in their gut microorganisms. 

Now days we live in a sterile environment and there are health complications due to it: allergies and immune deficiencies‘ (having asthma and Celiac disease it makes me wonder if I should be spending more time rolling around outside.)   She mentioned the Disappearing microbiota Hypothesis proposed by Blaser and Falkow which proposes that there is a mass extinction of microbes that were important to humans in the past. 

Before concluding, Guillemin disused Zebra fish and how they are model organisms and the types of research that can be conducted with them.  Mutant Zebra fish that don’t have a gut rhythm can efficiently clean their intestinal track which increased inflammation and disease which was determined by counting the number of immune cells present.  Further study found that this inflammation was due to gut bacteria.

Guillemin concluded in saying that this research emphasizes just how important it is to nurture our gut microbiota.  She urged the audience to “only eat what your grandmother would recognize as food.”

Videos of the Microbes in the Modern World Lecture series can be found at:

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