February 23, 2024

Nobody here but me and my microbes

A study by UK scientists in Nature Biotechnology indicates that ushering in the era of genetic engineering and personalised medicine may be more involved than anyone had imagined. It turns out that most of the cells in our body are bacteria, fungi and viruses. More than 500 species of bacteria exist in the human body, making up more than 100 trillion cells — compared to a mere several trillion human cells. We humans, it seems, are “super-organisms” who share our bodies with an abundant quantity of other life forms.

It follows that much of the genetic material in our bodies belong to bacteria and this must be taken into account in the development of biotechnology cures. The decoding of the human genome is only a small first step towards understanding how the body interacts with its environment.

Professor Ian Wilson, of the drug giant Astra Zeneca, says that the human super-organism concept “could have a huge impact on how we develop drugs, as individuals can have very different responses to drug metabolism and toxicity.”