MAYA EMMONS-BELL, PhD student in biology: You are roughly half bacteria. In terms of cell number, that is. It’s a disorienting reality to swallow, but the body that allows you to dance and digest is utterly dependent on the work of millions of bacterial collaborators. They colonize your gut, pulling off complicated chemical reactions to produce nutrients necessary for your survival (biotin and vitamin K, to name a few). They patrol your skin, forming complex communities that ward off dangerous disease-causing interlopers. And, research published last week shows that they may also affect brain development and the efficacy of cancer drugs.
The bacterial panoply that cooperates so closely with your human cells is as unique to you as a fingerprint – no two people share exactly the same set of bacterial species. Recently, the impact that your “microbiome” has on your health has begun to get the attention it deserves. Study after study has found that sick people tend to have unusual bacterial fingerprints.
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