Michael Cardenas: Continuing with my (apparent) theme of dissecting popular science, I’ve decided to talk about a rapidly growing field of study – that of the microbiome. For those of you who don’t know, the ‘microbiome’ refers to the diverse ecology of bacteria residing within our intestines. To put into context just how vast this range of microorganisms is: we have over 100 trillion tiny bacterial cells residing within our bodies (99% of which live in the gut), significantly more than we have human cells in the body. In the average adult, up to 2kg of bodyweight can be attributed to bacteria. This begs the question – why aren’t we all overcome with disease, considering how much bacteria we harbour?
The simple answer is that not all bacteria are bad. I’m sure that you’ll have seen adverts for yoghurt drinks claiming to contain lots of “friendly bacteria”. A significant rise in all probiotic sales (including tablets and powders) has been observed over the last five years, and further increases are expected within the future. Between 2015 and 2020, probiotic sales in Europe alone are predicted to increase by 15%. What do these “friendly bacteria” do, why are they so important, and why are they so marketable?