4 January 2016

We are not alone...

A bit like Orion the cat - in Men in Black - carrying his home galaxy on his necklace, more and more specialists in gut biology agree that our gut flora represents a whole new organ that lives independently from, as well as in association with us.

For centuries, we have been so fascinated by the sky and its stars, by  the wonderfulness and weirdness of galaxies, by the possibility of an extra-terrestrial life that we forgot to explore the fabulous microscopic world inside of us.

Our microbiota represents a whole new organ in the human body - Do you want to tweet this?

So why haven't we heard more about our inner galaxy? It's not like we've never been interested in invisible little buggers, in fact their existence was hypothesized thousands of years ago.
However, it's not until 1676 that one serious Dutch geek called Anton Van Leeuwenhoek built his own microscope and finally got the evidence of their existence.

Despite all these early efforts, work on our bug's collection of DNA genes only began some 340 years later, in 2008, way after work on the human genome started.

Well, yes, I can hear you say, we didn't know about DNA (discovered in 1869) and its structure and role (observed and proved in 1953) or even how to sequence it before the 70's!

Our fascination for the skies

But did you know that before embarking on the whole human genome sequencing, scientists worked on tiny species? The first ever genome to be fully analyzed was the one of a virus, by Sanger's team in 1977. I guess they chose that one because it was kind of a smallish job to start with - a story of only 11 genes.

Armed with the best techniques, scientists then turned ther attention to our own genome thinking it would give us the key to understand how we function. But it turned out that our own story is told with only 20,500 genes and isn't providing the answers to our most pressing questions!

While our genome is 1863 times bigger than Sanger's virus, we are 50 million time bigger than that virus! Does this mean we may not be in charge of all of our functions? That something else is helping us along the way, and in turn would be responsible for diseases?

With this mind, scientists are now shifting their attention to our gut microbes to find answers.

So, what about the microbiota genome then? How big is it? Well, with 100 trillion bacterial cells belonging to up to 1000 species, it is estimated that it may cover close to 3 million genes!

Three million genes of microbes in and on our body when we, ourselves, are only composed of 20,500? Pretty exciting... or frankly scary...

I can't wait to discover more about our inhabitants, and how we can help them to help us stay in shape, safe and sane! Stay tuned today, I will be publishing more articles throughout the day to celebrate MBAI launch. 

What questions would you like scientists to finally find answers to? 
Would you like to share your thoughts? Feel free to use the comments box, I'd love to read them.

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My bugs and I Published @ 2014 by Ipietoon