People may be familiar with products that claim to impact gut health via probiotics and prebiotics, like kombucha and supplements. Prebiotics are plant fibers that encourage growth of beneficial gut bacteria, while probiotics are usually live bacteria that are associated with good gut health (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021). Diversity comes up often in discussions about gut microbes. Diversity refers to the amount of different species present in a sample, and more diverse samples contain a wider range of microbes. We know that a less diverse community of gut microbes is associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (Cénit et al., 2014) and obesity (Turnbaugh et al., 2008). However, relatively little is known about how the performance of endurance exercise might impact the microbes living within the gut.
Microbes found in our body and gut are responsible for many different functions of everyday life. Specifically, the human microbiome has prominent influences on health and disease (Kates et al., 2020). Have you ever questioned what can contribute to changes in our microbiome? The microbiome is defined as the community of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi in a specific environment (Ursell et al., 2012). Although microbial changes are being considered in diet trends, probiotics, and environmental factors, pet ownership is often overlooked. Today, approximately 67% of U.S. households own a pet (APPA, 2021). Pet ownership brings us to the question, how may our microbiomes be impacted by pets living in our households? Many cats and dogs have similar microbiota compared to humans (Honneffer et al., 2014). Human-pet relationships can bring to light many pros and cons within our health. Many animals, especially those that roam outside, tend to bring in bacteria from the environment. This bacteria can then be easily transmitted (Resnick, 2012) to those living in the house, whether it’s via furniture, snuggling with your pet, or even something we consider harmless, like kissing your pet. Not only that, but bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridia, and Campylobacter are transmitted via pets and cause severe intestinal diseases for humans.
It is currently estimated that the number of bacterial cells in our body roughly matches or exceeds the number of human cells, with the majority of these bacteria residing in the gut (Sender, et. al 2016). You may be familiar with literature identifying a “gut-brain” axis, i.e. a relationship between mental health and the composition of our microbiota. Studies have shown correlations between bacterial community makeup and disorders such as autism, depression and schizophrenia (Foster & Neufield 2013), (Dickerson, et. al 2017). Bacterial disbalance has also been correlated with diseases such as diabetes and obesity (Hartstra, et. al. 2014). A common factor between these disorders is that they are generally associated with lower microbial diversity. While there is a growing body of literature supporting the relationships between disease and dysbiosis, a perturbation of the microbial community, little research has explored the relationships between personality and patterns in variation of the healthy microbiome.
Over the last decade, plastic has become a more and more concerning source of pollution. In 2013 alone, almost 300 million pounds of plastic were produced worldwide (Lu et al 2017). Microplastics are defined as any plastic particle smaller than 5mm in diameter. Microplastics have been well documented as health concerns for marine life as more plastic accumulates in the ocean than any other place on earth. Additionally, microplastics have been found in a variety of household products including toothpaste and cosmetic products. We are just beginning to understand the extent microplastics have infiltrated our environment as well as our bodies, let alone the health risks they pose. One area of study deserving attention is the effect these plastics have on the microbiome of an organism. A microbiome is all of the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live within or on a specific organism. Some of these microorganisms provide essential services to their host and maintaining a healthy microbiome has been tied to overall organismal health. Past studies have linked altered microbiomes to everything from obesity (Ridura et al 2013) to asthma (Stein et al 2016). Continue reading “From Microplastics to Microorganisms”
Many studies on human microbiomes have demonstrated the great interpersonal variability of microbial communities, as well as the potential for specific aspects of the microbiome to uniquely tie to an individual. The significance of this study lies both in criminal forensic applications, as well as in privacy concerns for individuals that participate in microbiome research studies. Despite criminal forensic’s history of personal identification through fingerprints, DNA, and blood type, there have been no real efforts to establish microbial data as a method of personal identification.
The scientific community has already begun brainstorming how microbial data could be leveraged for forensic use. Using knowledge on how an individual’s microbiota changes depending on diet, lifestyle, medication, and pathology, forensic analysts may be able to trace suspects from their bacterial sheddings at a crime scene. Even without direct identification, the aforementioned lifestyle information could assist in apprehension of an assailant (Hampton-Marcell et al. 2017). This study’s purpose is to investigate the capabilities of “fingerprinting” individuals using their microbiome. Microbial fingerprinting (MF) will be defined as using a set of microbial data to trace and identify a unique individual from a larger population. The benefits of microbial fingerprinting in forensics would be numerous, allowing for suspect identification when human DNA is not usable. This pro to microbial fingerprinting comes from the resilience of bacterial DNA; it is not as easily destroyed as human DNA (Nema 2018). While researchers in the past have used metagenomic shotgun sequencing to identify microbial populations, they found that increases in data set size decreased efficacy for this profiling method. (Segata et al. 2012). For this reason, this study uses a method described in a publication from Segata et al. (2012), where clade-specific marker genes are used to identify microbial clades in larger data sets.Continue reading “Could Your Body’s Bacteria be the Reason You’re Proven Guilty of Murder?”
Body odor is a biological process that affects all humans. Many animals have scent glands and body odors that serve different purposes, and humans are no different. It is believed that human body odors might signal familial recognition and communication regarding sexual attraction and reproduction (Hoover, K. 2010). While some human-produced scents may be inoffensive or appealing at best, others are found to be entirely unpleasant (body malodor). These unpleasant aromas are created through interactions between the microbes that live on our skin and substances created by our bodies. Metabolic pathways facilitated by our skin bacteria result in the breakdown of lactic, acetic, and other acids that leave our bodies through sweat, which, by itself, is odorless (Barzantny, H. et al 2011).
Monogenic disorders are estimated to affect 1/100 people at birth (WHO). They are caused by individual mutations in individual genes that result in non-functional products such as RNA molecules or proteins. In the case of cystic fibrosis (CF), a mutation in an ion-transport protein causes CF patients to have thick, sticky mucus that easily traps bacteria, viruses and other contaminants that can cause disease. Thick mucus is particularly an issue in the lungs where trapped microbes can lead to lung inflammation and infection (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). In healthy individuals, microbes are not uncommon in the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Usually, microbes are eliminated by little hairs that sweep microbes trapped in free-flowing mucus up and out of the respiratory tract to be coughed up or swallowed (Huffnagle et al., 2016). However, in CF patients thick mucus limits this elimination of microbes, trapping them in the lungs and respiratory tract (Fig. 1).
To the general public, the idea that there are tiny organisms living all around (and inside) of us might be a scary concept. Naturally, if all the news you get on a regular basis is concerning the totally-terrifying E. Coli that can give you food poisoning, or that fiendish-foe influenza–it’s not surprising that people often have negative reactions to the term “microbe.’ The reality is that we’re mostly made up of microbes, we encounter them every day, and most of the time they’re harmless or even beneficial! In fact, we often use microbes to ferment sugars so we can make things like yogurt and bread, and just as we use these microbes for our own benefit–plants can do the same!Continue reading “Leafy Greens and Friends: who’s hangin’ out on your lettuce?”
The skin is our largest organ and plays an important role in our health and well being. One key role of our skin is preventing infections by acting as a physical barrier to pathogens and secreting antimicrobial enzymes in our sweat (Parham, 2015). However, whether from genetic or environmental factors, sometimes this defense system goes wrong.
The vaginal microbiota undergoes major compositional changes throughout a women’s lifespan from birth, to puberty, to menopause. However, very little is known about the composition of the vaginal microbiota throughout these transitional stages (Romero 2014). So if the microbial community of the vagina changes throughout a women’s life, how does pregnancy change it, if it does at all?Continue reading “How Does Your Microbe Community Change During Pregnancyï»¿?”