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All of you study the microbiome, obviously, but you’re focused on different aspects. What’s your favorite microbiome, and why does your research tend to gravitate to that area?
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Jessica GreenThe microbiome work that I spend the most time on right now is the built environment. One of the reasons that I am highly motivated to think about the built-environment microbiome is because we spend 90% of our lives indoors. Due to the great amount of time that we spend indoors, there’s a very likely possibility that the built environment is an important source for microbes for the human body. And I’m highly motivated by the possibility that one day we’ll be able to engineer and design buildings and urban spaces in a way that will promote human health and productivity.
Rob KnightThe Knight Lab uses and develops state-of-the-art computational and experimental techniques to ask fundamental questions about the evolution of the composition of biomolecules, genomes, and communities in different ecosystems, including the complex microbial ecosystems of the human body. We subscribe to an open-access scientific model, providing free, open-source software tools and making all protocols and data publicly available in order to increase general interest in and understanding of microbial ecology, and to further public involvement in scientific endeavors more generally.
Justin SonnenburgA horizontal gene transfer event 40,000 years ago allows strains of B. plebeius in the guts of some Japanese people to consume seaweed carbohydrates. An event that, today, may not be possible. “‘We’re undergoing a tremendous experiment right now,’ [Sonnenburg] says. ‘We’re consuming a lot of really highly processed calorie-dense food that’s incredibly sterile, so they lack the microbial reservoirs for these gene transfer events.'”
“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.'”
Authors, M.D'S, Nutritionalists and Scientists
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Well, in the human microbiome field, the traditional view of microbes is that we were basically at war with them
We now know from human studies and from animal studies that the beneficial microbes are playing a tremendous role. For example, what particular collection of beneficial microbes you have in the gut has a large effect on how efficiently you can extract calories from different kinds of food, how likely you are to be able to escape colon cancer or heart disease — even how you metabolize different kinds of drugs.
The beneficial microbes in the guts of mice greatly alter their susceptibility to different kinds of infectious disease. So, having the right microbes to begin with can ward off the harmful pathogens you might come in contact with.
One of the things we need to do is just characterize what’s out there — to look at everything from people living very traditional lifestyles to people living in modern cities, and the interplay between humans and environment. I think there’s tremendous potential for restoring some of the connection to the environment we’ve lost through living in hermetically sealed buildings and relying extensively on air conditioning. Perhaps one solution is to have buildings that a little more open.