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The microbiome is increasingly making news headlines on a global scale. A rapidly growing number of studies are being published that link the microbiome to phenomenon such as human health and environmental sustainability. And yet, true understanding of what the microbiome is and how we can use it to our benefit still lacks among many. So if you want to learn a little more about the microbiome, this article is a good place to start.
A brief and relatively simple definition of the microbiome is the collection of microorganisms and conditions in a particular environment. However, microorganisms still have a predominantly negative reputation. Groups of species such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Chlamydia are most likely to be the first that come to mind when microorganism are first mentioned – and although these are indeed species often identified as pathogens, the vast majority of microorganisms have a whole host of beneficial properties. In fact, we can’t live without them!
Microorganisms form the basis of life. They thrive in the most bizarre conditions across the entirety of the globe from the inside of our guts, to the depths of the ocean by hydrothermal vents, and even all the way up to the northern most slopes of Mount Everest. And yet, without the help of modern day technology, we cannot see microbes with the naked eye. Wherever they are found, microbial communities have significant impacts – sometimes even reaching entire ecosystems. Microorganisms in the environment not only consume but also produce oxygen, decompose organic material and supply nutrients.
All of us carry a unique collection of microorganisms, made up of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Our gut, mouth and skin each host their own unique microbiome community vital for maintaining a robust immune system, a healthy gut, a resilient skin barrier and overall good health. The number of microorganisms we carry is actually higher than the number of own human cells and in total weights around 1.8 kg, which is more than our brain weighs!
These microbes in and on our body make up our human microbiome and directly affects our health. They even influence our mood and behaviour. Research into the latter is called ‘gut-skin-brain axis’ – linking the microbiome of our gut and skin to the functioning of our brain. E.g. ‘unhappy’ gut bacteria can emit stress signals that can reach the brain. Research into this is still in its infancy, but rapid progress is being made.
Even if some of us are aware that certain types of microbes are important for human health, it’s not so widely known that carefully balanced microbiomes are crucial for environmental health, thriving ecosystems and even influence climate change. While microbes also produce the infamous methane and other greenhouse gases, the plethora of microbiomes present in the environment do make a notable contribution to the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Oceans are paramount to carbon sequestration, providing the largest carbon store on the planet. With the earth’s seas and rivers suffering from chronic levels of pollution, and industrialised farming relentlessly damaging ecosystems, scientists are searching for innovative solutions for the increasingly pressing global emergency that we face.
Researchers are only just beginning to grasp the full significance of the earth microbiome and how it affects the environment. Equipped with the right tools, researchers can advance their understanding of these connections and help us make better choices about the products we produce and use and the environmental standards we employ, and all of that in order to create a healthier and more sustainable planet.
So what can be done to accelerate our understanding and using the potential of microbiomes to the benefit of humans and the future of the earth? To do so successfully, a clearer understanding of these complex microbial communities is required as there are still many unanswered questions about the specific roles they play within human health and the environment.
Our mission within BaseClear is to bring together scientists, researchers and policy makers. In our network of both academic- and industry leaders, we strive to further our understand the world of microorganisms every day. Empowered by this knowledge, products and services can be developed that will improve the quality of life and contribute to a healthier future for our planet.
Are your gut microbes hungry to find out more? Join the movement and contact one of our experts to see how we can join forces in the quest.