After five years of research, scientists have developed the first genetic map of the "human microbiome"—the more than 10,000 distinct microbial species that reside on and in your body. To do so, they collected tissue samples from 242 healthy Americans from different sites (or "habitats") like the skin, nasal and oral passages, and even feces. The map for the first time identifies what the bacteria are, where they are, and how they differ—between two areas of the body, and two people, explains the Wall Street Journal. Here are some highlights of their fascinating work, published yesterday in 16 papers, per the Washington Post:
- Guess which are more different: The microbial species that inhabit different regions of your body, or that inhabit you versus another person? Answer: the former. For example, the microbes living on your skin are quite different than the microbes living on your tongue.
- Temperature, acidity, and other factors influence the number and variety of microbes in any given habitat; for example, the diversity of microbes in the vagina decreases during pregnancy, in order to provide a healthier birth passage.
- Different microbes can do the same job; for example, the microbes breaking down carbohydrates in your intestine may vary over time.
The findings should give a boost to researchers studying bacteria-related diseases. One biologist not involved in the project tells the Journal
that new treatments could be created for ailments like Crohn's disease, diabetes, and eczema.