As we’ve mentioned before, our microbial friends have a cozy relationship with us. As today’s New York Times put it, if you’re in good health, you can thank your hundred trillion bacteria (plus viruses and fungi).
Thanks to the multi-pronged effort of the Human Microbiome Project which is seeking to characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, we now know for sure what was previously suspected: not only are most of our cells bacterial as opposed to human, we all have different crowds of the bugs within us.
For us food-curious, the most obvious area for potential answers is how these bacteria help determine how our digestion functions… including how quickly we metabolize various foods, whether we get sick or stay healthy and a host of other issues including whether we become obese or allergic. Last year, one study was able to categorize people solely on their “enterotypes,” with vegetarians having different gut microbes than meat eaters. Microbes may even be the reason we prefer certain foods over others.
This fascinating research reminds us just how little we really know about our bodies and what makes them tick (not to mention how little we know about other amazing properties of microbes, like affecting climate).