William Wordsworth was on to something. As the poet claimed, a newborn never enters the world in utter nakedness but instead comes trailing clouds of glory—if by clouds of glory you mean a coating of mostly helpful microbes picked up from the fluids inside mom’s birth canal.
Hear that little voice in your head telling you to skip a second slice of pumpkin pie? It might be coming not from your conscience, but from the masses of bacteria in your stomach.
Bad news, hypochondriacs: You’re walking in a massive cloud of bacteria. In fact, it’s kinda an extension of your body, and no amount of showering will rid you of it. Even better: It grew out of your mouth, poop and skin.
There’s been quite a bit of attention focused on the microbiome. Back in 1988, it was defined as the community of all microbial living organisms within a particular habitat. But over the years, the scope of the term has contracted to mean for the most part only bacteria. It’s not really a surprise as most work to understand the microbial environment within each environment, including the human body, has focused on this one branch of the tree of life.
The trillions of bacteria that live on us and in us—otherwise known as our microbiomes—are vital to our health in ways we’re just beginning to understand. Now scientists have discovered the most diverse collection of bodily bacteria ever, in a remote Amazonian tribe of southern Venezuela.
Scientists now know that gut microbes almost certainly play a role in us getting fat, and poop transplants are sometimes touted as a potential route to weight loss. But if that’s a little too icky for you, Vanderbilt scientists have been experimenting with more refined microbiome tinkering in mice using genetically modified E. coli.