Can’t Get That Microbiome Out of My Head

By Kendall K. Morgan

Images courtesy NIAID

Ever since I researched and wrote about the human microbiome for the first issue of Genome, I can’t quite get the thought of all those bugs out of my mind. As tempted as I am by the prospect, for some reason, I still haven’t submitted my samples for analysis by the American Gut Project as our Editor-in-Chief Jeanette McCarthy did and shared with us here. But I have taken the NIH’s Lita Proctor’s advice to lay off the antibiotics to heart in a way that has at times left friends shaking their heads.

Weeks of coughing and sneezing weren’t enough to convince me that I should go to the doctor and maybe, just maybe, think about an antibiotic. It was probably a virus anyway, I told myself, or perhaps allergies. Whatever it was, it just didn’t seem likely that a hit to my microbiome was ultimately going to be the answer. I stuck to my allergy medicine and a neti pot. Thankfully, I’ve recovered, gut microbes unscathed.

Excitement over the microbiome isn’t all in my head, that’s for sure. News of the microbiome is popping up all over the place, and it’s a trend that looks pretty sure to continue as companies scramble to devise products designed to augment our compromised, modern-day microbiomes. A company called MicroBiome Therapeutics is working on “microbiome modulators” intended to manipulate our tiny companions in special ways, with early results in for a product aimed to shift the microbiome in patients with diabetes. That’s just the start, as Nature News reports that a wave of investment could make microbiome-targeted therapies an option for the rest of us in a matter of years.

As further evidence of microbe mania, Julia Scott shared her experience as Subject 26 in testing a “living bacterial tonic” for startup AOBiome. Instead of showering, she misted herself with microbes twice a day. Then, in the New Scientist I got in the mail last week, Jop de Vrieze espouses the microbial merits of less frequent showering, too.

I may be avoiding antibiotics, but I think I’ll stick to regular showers and shampoo for now. Still, what can I say? The future of “clean living” is starting to look a whole lot dirtier to me.