Although we cannot see them, they surround us. On us. In us. We are vastly outnumbered by the microorganisms that live on us and in our surroundings, but scientists are just now beginning to grasp how these microbes affect our health and other parts of our existence.
Nonetheless, it is a field of study that is becoming increasingly popular, and this past year was full of intriguing advancements. Here are a few of the main points.
Interesting Micro-organisms Facts
Micro-organisms follow you when you move
In a study that was published in Science in August, researchers swabbed the hands, feet, and noses of every member of seven families for six weeks to list the microorganisms that lived there, including any pets.
They also took samples from home objects like light switches, doorknobs, and other surfaces.
The scientists discovered that each home included a unique microbial community that was primarily derived from its human occupants. By comparing microbial profiles, they could identify the home that a person resided in.
The use of microbes in crime investigation
This year, scientists discovered many discoveries that might be used as evidence in a future court case.
According to one study, the microbiome of human cadavers changes in a predictable manner, suggesting a novel method for pinpointing the time of death.
Also, earlier this month, researchers proposed using bacteria found in pubic hair to identify sex offenders, which could be particularly helpful when a rapist uses a condom to avoid leaving DNA evidence behind.
Your intestinal flora could be inherited.
This year, after studying more than 1,000 fecal samples from 416 pairs of twins, researchers found that your genes may play a role in which bacteria decide to live in your gut.
Unlike non-identical twins, identical twins have more similar populations of gut microorganisms since they share 100% of their DNA.
Moreover, some bacteria appeared to be particularly vulnerable to the genetics of their human host.
A family of bacteria known as Christensenellaceae, which is more prevalent in lean individuals than in obese individuals, was one of the most heritable types.
Mice implanted with these bacteria by the researchers gained less weight and fat than mice without the bacterium.
According to the researchers, one way your genes may affect your likelihood of developing obesity is by influencing your microbiome.
Instead of fecal transplants, poo tablets might work.
A nasty bacteria called Clostridium difficile (seen above) causes havoc in the digestive tract and kills 14,000 people annually in the US alone.
The worst infections cause C. diff to take control since other intestinal bacteria normally keep it in check.
Fecal transplants, which include transferring a healthy person’s feces sample into the sufferer, are a successful yet unsettling procedure (the outdoor, so to speak).
Researchers created a substitute.
The bacteria were obtained from healthy stool samples, and the germs were put into odorless, frozen capsules.
In October, scientists reported in JAMA that the poo tablets successfully treated 18 of 20 patients with antibiotic-resistant C. diff infections.
The next step is for the researchers to create pills using bacteria generated in the lab rather than one collected from excrement. When you wait, swallow quickly.
To attract fruit flies, yeast has evolved.
Brewers’ yeast generates fruity esters, which can enhance the flavor of your beer. However, the yeast is not attempting to impress you.
Instead, according to research published in October, they are attempting to draw fruit flies and hitch a ride.
They increased the expression of a gene known as ATF1, which caused yeast cells to create more aromatic chemicals during fermentation and draw in more flies. Flies ignored the yeast when they removed the gene.
The microbial diversity in cheese rinds is insane.
Over 10 billion microscopic cells—bacteria and fungi that transform ordinary milk into something sour and delectable—can be found in one little particle of cheese rind.
Although cheese makers have manipulated these bacteria for generations, little is known about them. This year, researchers examined 137 kinds of cheese from 10 different nations in the largest study to date on the microbial diversity of cheese.
The microbiome may provide new medication.
Several different chemicals are produced by the bacteria that live on and in our bodies. Some of those compounds could become potent medications.
Researchers taught computer software to locate genes that can produce drug-like compounds. Then they let it free genetic information from the human microbiome in work published in September in Nature.
Thousands of potential chemicals were found.
To create a brand-new antibiotic medicine they dubbed lactobacilli, the researchers purified one of them, isolated from Lactobacillus gasseri, a species abundant in the vagina.
In test tube studies, lactobacilli destroyed some bacteria species that could be hazardous but preserved several innocuous ones.
For all the bacteria, the Tree of Life requires new branches.
Eukaryotes (plants, animals, and all other species that store their DNA in a specific compartment inside their cells called the nucleus), Bacteria (our familiar one-celled friends and foes), and Archaea are the three domains typically used to categorize life on Earth (single-celled organisms that are biochemically and genetically distinct from the other two groups).
We don’t; two scientists wrote in Science last month. It’s possible that entire spheres of life have evaded our detection means.
Many initiatives to catalog the diversity of microorganisms in the ocean and other settings have searched for genetic fragments that are previously known to exist in other organisms.
Life as we know it would cease if not for micro-organisms
In the journal PLOS Biology in December, two researchers posed the following hypothetical scenario: What would occur in a world without microbes? We might not realize it for several days.
Our digestion would suffer if gut flora were absent, but not significantly. Nevertheless, animals that depend more on the bugs in their intestines will soon start to disappear.
Crops would start to perish without soil microbes that fix nitrogen. Waste would build up, decomposition would cease, and the recycling of nutrients that sustains life as we know it would come to a standstill.
What do the researchers say about the micro-organisms?
The researchers state that “we only foresee total societal collapse within a year or two, connected to catastrophic failure of the food supply chain.”
“A protracted period of starvation, disease, unrest, civil war, anarchy, and global biogeochemical asphyxiation would be followed by the annihilation of most humans and non-microscopic life on the earth.”
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