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Water Cooler- You Can Tell A Lot About A Person From Their Bacteria?

As medical science has progressed we have learned many things that can determine what kinds of treatments might be more affective. The biggest is probably finding that there are different blood types and that giving transfusions of blood between blood types can be detrimental to the health of the patient.

Now there is emerging research that suggests that there are three major types of intestinal fauna and that just about everyone falls into one of these groups. The New York Times is reporting that Dr. Peer Bork of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory has found that there are different and distinct “enterotypes”.

An enterotype describes the ecology of the human gut. As you probably know there are billions and billions of beneficial bacteria in every persons digestive tract. They help with the digestion of food, but more importantly they also synthesize vitamins that humans can not produce on our own.

From the Times article:

The discovery of enterotypes follows on years of work mapping the diversity of microbes in the human body — the human microbiome, as it is known. The difficulty of the task has been staggering. Each person shelters about 100 trillion microbes.

What the scientists have discovered is that not only are there three types, once you have established a enterotype, it changes the nature of the gut so that another set of microbes can’t from a different enterotype can not establish themselves.

Given the amount of digestive disorders that people have these days this may actually hold a clue as to how these come about. If say a series of antibiotics kill of the major type of bacteria for your enterotype and a different type try to colonize you could have a constant irritant in your gut.

Now that there seems to be a way to identify the types not only could you get a medicine that is designed to repopulate you system with the bacteria that are “native” to your system, there is also a chance to design drugs to be well absorbed by your specific type of bacteria. Since it appears that there are only three types this makes formulation for such medicines easy and (probably not but it should be) relatively cheap.

As with all new science it should be pointed out that this is still in the very early stage and there is a lot more to be learned before any kind of real treatment will come from it. This was a fairly small study and Dr. Bork is increasing the diversity of people studied to see if the conclusions he is coming to are valid. Still, when it was first determined that there were different blood types we did not know what it would mean for medicine, there was no was to predict the insights that would flow from that discovery.

The microbiome of humans is a vastly complex system with a wide range of bacteria, most of which we have never cataloged. This first step in finding that there seem to be only three types is an important foundation to build our understanding of the life-forms that not only reside inside us but provide an essential partnership to us.

As always the amount of knowledge that humans have acquired in our 200,000 years as a distinct species is amazing. The only thing more amazing is how much more there is for us to learn and the fact that we continue to discovery it on a regular basis.

What is on your minds tonight Firedogs? The floor is yours.

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Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org