TAG | Guts
A recent NPR article helped shed some light on a fascinating new field of scientific inquiry, namely how important our microbe population is to keeping us healthy and alive. We are rapidly coming to understand that we cannot live with our microbes, the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that live in and on our bodies.
These microbes live on our skin and in our guts. They live in our noses and in the mucus our body uses to protect itself. Scientists featured in the article report that our bodies are home to 10 times more microbial cells than bodily cells. Their numbers are so staggering that as much as 99% of the genes in (and on) our bodies are microbes’ genes and not our own. But it is a mistake to think of these microbes as foreign. They are as much a part of what makes us “us” as the color of our eyes and our genetic inheritance.
Me and My Microbiome
Scientists are calling your microbiome, which includes the critical balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, the 11th organ system because of its many functions. Your microbiome:
- Supports healthy digestion and immunity from your center, your gut
- Shapes the way your immune system handles invaders by “teaching” the body which microbes are healthy and which aren’t from birth
- Contributes to how much fat you store and how much energy you have
- Signals the brain to impact your mood and behavior
The NPR article went on to reveal that Americans are at a microbial disadvantage due to the inundation of antibiotics in our society. We are exposed to a smaller pool of microbes and so our microbiomes are less diverse. A diverse microbiome is a strong microbiome that may be able to handle health challenges more effectively.
Remembering that our microbiome is such a pervasive part of our health is key. Not all microbes are germs to be avoided at all costs, and you need healthy microbes such as beneficial bacteria to stay healthy.
Source: “Staying Healthy May Mean Learning to Love our Microbiomes” NPR blog, July 2013
There’s a new superbug in town, a superbug of a different kind. And Monsanto, the biotechnology giant, is the company behind it. It seems that one of Monsanto’s biggest money-makers—Bt corn, is creating superbugs. The majority of non-organic corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified to produce a toxic compound against western corn rootworms—a major corn pest. This corn is well-known as Bt corn, because it contains a gene from the soil microorganisms Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces an insecticide against the corn rootworm.
Genetically modified Bt corn worked so well against the corn rootworm that some farmers began planting it every year, instead of the usual rotation of growing corn one year and soybeans the next—a method that helps reduce pest populations. If there is one thing that farmers should know, it’s that planting the same thing every year is a recipe for disaster (even if it doesn’t seem that way at first).
It turns out the corn rootworms, much like the superbug bacteria infecting humans, are developing a resistance to the Bt toxin that usually destroys the pest. A few farms in Iowa are reporting that the Bt corn no longer kills the corn rootworm, meaning the bugs—now superbugs—have developed resistance to the Bt toxin. First superbugs in our guts, now superbugs on corn, soon superbugs everywhere.
It’s estimated that about one-third of all the corn grown in the U.S. is Monsanto’s Bt corn. Try to buy products using organic corn, or at least non-GM corn, to avoid being part of the human experiment that is the consumption of GM foods in this country. We just don’t know if they’re safe yet, and many studies suggest they’re not.