By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Are antibiotics making humans fatter and sicker? The notion seems far-fetched, until one takes into account the under-appreciated creatures known as microbes living inside of our bodies. We should acquaint ourselves with these single-celled creatures—they outnumber our human cells 10 to 1.
According to Dr. Martin J. Blaser, professor at NYU’s School of Medicine and Director of the Human Microbiome Project, unfortunately we have been unwittingly ravaging our internal ecosystems over the past century through over-enthusiastic use of antibiotics. In his recent book, Missing Microbes, he links our worsening microbial health to the modern rise in obesity, asthma, allergies, juvenile diabetes, and celiac disease.
The American human microbiome has lost a third of its biodiversity, and the problem is markedly worse in Western societies where antibiotics are easily accessible (over 250 million courses of antibiotics were prescribed in the United States in 2010 alone). The urgency is not just a matter of inhalers and treadmills: Our society is becoming ever more vulnerable to the likes of a serious plague.
This week, BreakThru News talked to Dr. Blaser himself about this ‘wild west’ of biology, and how only now are we glimpsing the gargantuan role that these microbes play in our health. Dr. Blaser’s Human Microbiome Project is currently working to sequence the human microbiome much in the same as the human genome has been.
This is a particularly daunting task given that the human body only has 23,000 unique genes, microbes have two million. Progress for society’s health will probably depend on doctors being able to diagnose microbial factors in diseases more specifically, and administer more powerful medication, like probiotics.
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell
Script Supervisor – Matthew DeMello
Research – Kenneth Miller
with guest – Dr. Martin J. Blaser