Through research, we know that good bacteria in the gut are needed to digest food, to synthesize certain vitamins and help fend off disease-causing bacteria.
But with over 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies, we have barely scratched the surface of our understanding of the beneficial roles that microbes play in our health. But The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) hopes to change all that.
HMP, which is being compared to the Human Genome Project that sequenced human DNA, is a collaboration of 200 scientists and 80 institutions to sequence genetic material of microbial communities found at specific sites on the human body.
Once it’s complete, we’ll know more about the bacteria that naturally coexist in or on a healthy person. This will help us understand how changes in their populations affect our health and hopefully, how to restore balance.
Not that long ago it was thought that the bacteria on our bodies where just along for the ride. And since many bacteria have adapted to live on our bodies, they didn’t always grow well in a petri dish making them difficult to study.
Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have created a new field of research, called metagenomics, allowing comprehensive examination of microbial communities, even those that are difficult to cultivate outside the body.
Little Bugs, Big Impact?
Meanwhile, other research continues to discover how microscopic hitchhikers affect our health.
One study found that the gut bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus may help us stay cool in stressful situations by reducing stress hormones and increasing GABA receptors in the brain that have a calming effect.
Another study found that the presence of Firmicutes bacterial species increase fat absorption in the gut. Therefore, an excess amount of these bacteria may play a role in weight gain.
New York Times
The NIH Common Fund
New Hope 360