Who are we? In the debut episode of Signal we take a “gutsy” look into one of the biggest scientific mysteries today — the microbiome. The bacteria located in the gut have a lot to do with our overall health; they are implicated in everything from mood to appetite. But scientists are only beginning to understand the complexities of the human microbiome, specifically what happens when we mess with it.
It happens all the time, especially when we’re taking antibiotics. Antibiotic overuse can kill bacteria important for a healthy microbiome, leading to all kinds of problems. One of the biggest ones is Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, a disease of the digestive tract that kills up to 30,000 people every year in the US alone.
The most effective cure for C. diff is not to take even more drugs, but to restore the healthy microbiome. How does one do that? In the past several years scientists have experimented with fecal transplants, a process that’s not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, while drug manufacturers invest millions into developing new and better ways to target and cure C. diff. All of them are looking for the key that unlocks the mystery of the microbiome and with it, FDA approval.
As Dr. Martin Blaser, director New York University’s microbiome program, puts it, “we are a constellation of our microbes and ourselves.” But how close will an understanding of the microbiome bring us to an awareness of who we are, and to what extent could these new drugs fundamentally change us?
The Signal podcast is produced by Katie Hiler.