Each day, we come into contact with millions of bacteria on surfaces everywhere. Every time you turn a doorknob, or flip a light switch, or even dry your hands off with a clean towel, you pick up and deposit hundreds of different microorganisms. Although many of these are considered germs and can be harmful, recent studies have proven conclusively that bacteria can be quite helpful for the human body and new research gives us a brighter look at the future.
Uses of Bacteria
- Digest food: Believe it or not, humans contain an average of about three pounds of bacteria in our gut that helps us digest food. Recently, a small group of scientists found a way to classify people in one of three gut bacteria classifications. The New York Times quotes Rob Knight, a biologist at University of Colorado, who said it was the first indication that human gut ecosystems could be classified into distinct types.
- Synthesize vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is the most complex, chemically speaking, of all vitamins and is the only one synthesized entirely by microorganisms. B12 is one of the most important vitamins for human health and understanding the synthesizing processes has puzzled scientists for years. In 2007, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered the final piece to the puzzle, however. The remaining step in the synthesizing process completed their understanding of bacteria’s function in the vital process of breaking down and utilizing B12.
- Fight other bacteria: Certain bacteria exist in the human body to fight harmful germs and other microbes that could cause diseases. These act in cooperation with your immune system to fight potential viruses and boost anti-inflammatory measures in your body. This is essentially what antibiotics do — they kill germs to stop health issues from occurring. However, it is certainly handy to have a natural defense system that will do the job for you.
The New York Times shared information on a five-year study conducted by 200 scientists at 80 different institutions called the “Human Microbiome Project.” The project had three primary findings.
- Up to a thousand strains of bacteria were found on each person.
- The strains differed between individuals.
- Disease causing microbes were in everyone.
The findings were significant in a few key ways.
- Drug reactions: Based on what they learned in the study, scientists will be able to investigate the impact certain drugs have specifically on bacteria, not just on the human body as a whole. Up to this point, not much has been discovered about the role microbes play in our body’s defense against disease and sickness, and this is the first step towards a better understanding of this.
- Determine beneficial/stable bacteria: Not only can they determine what microorganisms are beneficial to the human body, but scientists will now be able to tell whether or not they are stable. Since every person carries hundreds of bacterium that could potentially harm the body, it would be a huge benefit to be able to monitor the bacteria and make sure they don’t mutate or turn into something harmful.
- Improve antibiotics: Overall, it is likely that antibiotics could be improved to either boost bacterial defenses for a more natural approach to fighting germs or they could eliminate specific strains to reduce the potential for developing infections or disease-causing microbes.
Despite testing 242 men and women as part of their research, and generating more than 11,000 samples, the researchers noted that they were merely scratching the surface of potential information on just how much bacteria benefits our bodies. The bottom line is this; although there is much negativity associated with bacteria in general, not all microorganisms are harmful and in fact, they do a lot to keep us healthy. Odd as it may seem, germs can be your friend.