Monday, June 4, 2012

Organisms And Their Microbes

On May 29th Dr. Karen Guillemin gave a speech at the university of Oregon on " Molecular dialogues with the microbes inside us," (Guillemin, 2012). This was an inspiring talk that described the background of human knowledge about microbes, which until recently has been nil. And also described why further research involving microbes is necessary.

We have recently figured out the entire human genome and it is hypothesized that one day, within the foreseeable future, each human being will have access to know their own genome. Scientists have also found that humans have 10^14 bacteria cells in their GI tract, compared with 10^12 human cells in our body. These discoveries and the research that goes into it are very exciting steps toward knowing more about the ecology and interactions taking place on earth.

One of these important ecological interactions that Dr. Karen Guillemin discussed in her lecture was the interaction between organisms and the microbes that live within their guts. She pointed out that the most recent phylogenetic tree of life shows that most of life on earth is by far composed of microbial life. 

This phylogenetic tree of life shows the full extent and abundance of microbes on earth. Image:

Realizing that animals, plants and fungi are the minorities here on earth is an important step to understanding and observing what interactions take place on earth and what is important for future research and studies. However we can still use many of the same concepts applied to our macro environments to relate to ones observed in the micro environments. For example, just as a forest may be the habitat for an owl, humans are a habitat for many microorganisms. Dr. Guillemin pointed out a study in her lecture that concluded that babies born by cesarean section had a similar microbiota to the nurses' and doctors' hands that were in the room during delivery, whereas in a vaginal child birth, the microbiota that colonizes the newborn is very similar to that of its mothers vaginal microbiota. Scientists do not yet know what impacts findings like these will inflict or what they necessarily mean for the health of human beings, but studies in this field are important to eventually solving these mysteries.

Dr. Guillemin also spoke of some of her own research completed through the University of Oregon Institute of Molecular Biology that uses zebrafish to study the interactions between organisms and the microbes in their gut. In order to do this specific area of research, she has developed a germ-free zebrafish to compare with the functions of a wild-type normal zebrafish. She has found that gut bacterial are integral to "...intestinal epithelial maturation, cell homeostasis and cell type specification, and the establishment of mucosal tolerance," (Guillemin). 

This figure shows the microbial presence (red) within a a zebrafish larva (green+blue). Image:

This talk by Dr. Karen Guillemin was inspiring to scientists and all academics alike, showing that this research is important for future science and understandings of the interactions between human health and the organisms around us.

Another Talk by Dr. Karen Guillemin:  
Molecular Dialogues with the Microbiota: Insights from the Zebrafish Intestine


 Guillemin, Karen. "Karen Guillemin." Institue of Molecular Biology. University of Oregon. Web. 4 June 2012.

 Guillemin, Karen. "Molecular Dialogues with the Microbes inside Us." Microbes and the Modern World: From the Globe to the Gut. Lillis Business Complex, Eugene, OR. 29 May 2012. Lecture.


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