Microbes rule, according to Yale microbiologist Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — and she isn’t kidding. “Microbes really run the world we live in — every aspect of it,” Handelsman recently explained.
“People don’t know that when they crave chocolate, one of the reasons is that their microbes (growing within their bodies) are addicted to chocolate. They think that they’re making a human, conscious decision to eat chocolate, but it’s actually the microbes telling them what to do,” Handelsman described during an interview.
In fact, the White House has announced it will spend about half a billion dollars a year in an effort to better understand the microbiome, or world of microbes. A report from a recent White House meeting on the project further stated that “hand-held sensors for real-time detection of microbes in air, soil, water or people” are “high on the wish list.” The ultimate goal is to “control and alter” the microbe to achieve health and environmental objectives.
Microbes in the healthy human gut surprisingly consist of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Recently scientists have discovered that everything from diseases to feelings is influenced by gut microbes. Microbes get nutrition when their human hosts eat or drink, and release chemicals as a result. Those chemicals serve a wide variety of functions and cause other chemical reactions in the body that affect the function of every organ and system, including the brain and nervous system.
Microbes linked to schizophrenia
Scientists have gotten closer to understanding the role of microbes in mental illness. Microbes were linked to schizophrenia in a recent study at George Washington University. Researchers reported that microbes such as lactic acid bacteria were found in the throats of patients with schizophrenia. This finding may lead to better diagnostic tests and understanding of the disease.
Microbes have also been associated with cognitive and emotional processes and mental illnesses such as depression, alcoholism and other disorders. Psychobiotics involve the use of probiotics, antibiotics and fecal transplant to treat conditions by altering gut microbes. Hopefully, the White House will fund scientists who will put the information gained from their study of microbes to advance the health and well-being of humankind.
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About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.