Horton Hears a Microbial Extinction Event

Bugs Inside: What Happens When the Microbes That Keep Us Healthy Disappear?

The human body has some 10 trillion human cells -- but 10 times that number of microbial cells. So what happens when such an important part of our bodies goes missing?

With rapid changes in sanitation, medicine and lifestyle in the past century, some of these indigenous species are facing decline, displacement and possibly even extinction. In many of the world's larger ecosystems, scientists can predict what might happen when one of the central species is lost, but in the human microbial environment -- which is still largely uncharacterized -- most of these rapid changes are not yet understood.

Meanwhile, each new generation in developed countries comes into the world with fewer of these native populations. "They're actually missing some component of their microbiota that they've evolved to have," Foxman says.

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9 Responses:

  1. strspn says:

    Favorite jwz blog post title of the decade.

  2. gryazi says:

    What happens? Why, Daybreakers with poop, obviously.

  3. hatter says:

    Their existence is pretty much doomed - until electron microscopy shows them to be cute and fluffy and looking adorable for WWF posters.

    the hatter

    • pikuorguk says:

      I can see the adverts now...

      *cue sad music*
      *start stern voice*

      This is Lactobactillius Madeupbullshitinus, he's a happy bacteria that lives in your gut. It's his job to help you have a healthy digestive transit, and to reduce bloating.

      Unfortunately, lacto's owner mistreated him by using those nasty medicated hand washes, and didn't drink enough of that healthy yoghurt stuff we've been pedalling for years. Lacto and many of his friends are facing the very real threat of extinction.

      *show large bottle of bleach*
      *fade to black*

      *cue happy music*
      *optimistic, but slightly begging tone of voice*

      But all is not lost. Your donation of just two pounds a week can pay for a bacteria sanctuary where lacto and others like him can live in safety, away from harsh and cruel treatment.

      Give two pounds a month, it's not too late to help.

  4. kencf0618 says:

    Interesting subject. Even one's dental bacteria change throughout the day, and the bacteria on the front of the teeth aren't the same mix as those on the back of the teeth.

  5. humble_fool says:

    Here's a curious thought: does not having these 'essential, common' bacteria make us abnormally-human? Are first-worlders actually an identifiable sub-species of humanity on a biological level?

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