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You may not know this, but you are home to a colony of bacteria. You may also not know it, but the health and happiness of that colony of bacteria have a direct effect on your own health and happiness. In short, if we are what we eat, then we may need to make bacteria part of our balanced breakfast.
Microbes are single-celled organisms. They are literally everywhere. Microbes are in the air we breathe, on the surfaces of everything we touch, and inside our bodies. Microbes can be bacteria, fungi, protozoa, or viruses.
A few years ago, scientists began studying the microbial life of our stomachs. Called The American Gut project, this study aims to understand the life of the bacteria that live in our digestive system. According to an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan, the goal is to gather information on the types and amounts of bacteria in the human gut. Scientists want to describe what a normal healthy microbe and human relationship should look like inside our digestive system. While the research is still in the very early stages, scientists have learned the following:
The strongest and healthiest microbe systems are those with a lot of variety.
The guts of Americans have much less variety than the guts of other populations.
Diets that include a lot of processed foods support less variation in bacteria.
Studying the makeup of our individual bacteria communities will help scientists get a better idea of which bacteria help human bodies. We used to think that bacteria in our bodies were invaders. This new research suggests that bacteria are part of the protective army that keeps us healthy. In fact, our bodies have a hard time recovering from medicines like antibiotics because they disrupt the balance of helpful bacteria. It seems clear from the early evidence that living with bacteria helps us resist invasion from things that make us sick.
Scientists have also learned that microbes might help our guts do things like process vitamins and important nutrients. Some microbes may help us deal with stress, or adapt to changes. Furthermore, there may come a time—in your lifetime—when illness is treated not with antibiotics, but with extra-special microbes that help us defend our bodies from illness.
All of this new information should make us think twice about things like antibacterial soap, which gets into our water supply. While many bacteria are very dangerous, we should perhaps be careful not to eliminate the good with the bad. While we figure out how to do that, feel free to let your dog lick your face. Rover's microbes may just be saving your life one day.
Pollan, Michael. "Some of My Best Friends Are Germs." New York Times Magazine 19 May 2013: 36-43, 50, 58-59.
The Truth About Antibacterial Soap
According to Discovery Fit & Health, about 75 percent of liquid soaps claim to be antibacterial. While this kind of soap sounds like a good idea, it is really not more effective than regular soap. Soap in general works by binding with dirt and grime and bacteria. This binding action allows the particles to be washed away easily. Antibacterial soap really does no more than regular soap. In fact, to be more effective than regular soap, antibacterial soap should stay on your skin for about two minutes to do what it claims it can do. Most people do not wash their hands that long. In addition, antibacterial soap may do harm. First it kills both beneficial and harmful bacteria. Second, scientists believe bacteria may become resistant to antibacterial agents over time, especially if they are not used correctly. Finally, antibacterial soap does nothing to viruses. Most of the time, we get sick from viruses, not bacteria. In sum, antibacterial soap does not live up to the hype. You are better off just using regular soap.
Is Antibacterial Soap Any Better than Regular Soap?
Part A and Part B below contain one fill-in-the-blank to be used for all three question responses. Your complete response must be in the format A, B, C including the letter choice, commas, and a space after the commas.
Which of the following best summarizes what microbes can do for us based on the text "A Brief Study of Guts"?
Fill in blank 1 using B, C, or D.
They help us overcome the effects of antibiotics.
They help process nutrients and vitamins our bodies need.
They work to keep our bodies healthy and resistant to disease.
Select one quotation from the text that supports your answer to Part A. Add your selection to blank 1 using E, F, or G.
Microbes are in the air we breathe, on the surfaces of everything we touch, and inside our bodies.
Called The American Gut project, this study aims to understand the life of the bacteria that live in our digestive system.
This new research suggests that bacteria are part of the protective army that keeps us healthy.
Select one quotation from the text that supports your answer to Part A. Add your selection to blank 1 using H, I, or J.
It seems clear from the early evidence that living with bacteria helps us resist invasion from things that make us sick.
While many bacteria are very dangerous, we should perhaps be careful not to eliminate the good with the bad.
While we figure out how to do that, feel free to let your dog lick your face