TED Conversations

Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

This conversation is closed.

Purell now, Bacteri-ell later?

The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that “too much cleanliness prevents the development of a well-balanced immune response”(Sironi and Clerici, 2010), has received a lot of support and also criticism. It has recently been challenged by the hypothesis of “early immune challenge”, which states that a lack of appropriate immune stimulation during early childhood might account for the increased development of allergies in industrialized countries (Kramer et al, 2013). This proposal places less emphasis on excessive hygienic practices and focuses more on the insufficient exposure to specific environmental microbes, particularly those from non-urban environments, as the reason behind the rise of atopic disease. While different, both hypotheses point to the beneficial health affects of some microbes.

What do you think is the reason for increased allergy levels in industrialized countries? Do you think that a concoction of the “right” microbial species in the form of a lotion, drink, or inhalant (aka "Bacteri-ell") could be a future replacement for natural exposure to beneficial microbes?
Instead of using hand sanitizers like Purell, do you see a future where people from some regions of the world are unsanitizing their hands with “Bacteri-ell”?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 29 2013: Studies have shown that not just humans, but all mammals have microbes on their skin in the order of trillions, with thousands of different species. Also, studies have shown that when we have a more biologically diverse set of microbes, then we have a better immune response to many different pathogens and antigens. But I doubt that our bodies would be ready for an onslaught of microbes in gel form.
    We do need more helpful microbes on our skin, and in our gut, but disrupting the biodiversity by adding selected microbes we think are most important could upset our body's ecosystem. It could become, in a sense, like an invasive species problem on our skin.
    This is a good idea, but may be better used as a medical treatment for those with problems associated with possible "microbe deficiency." Or maybe it would be better for people to take more trips out into the country and get to know the ecosystem that surrounds the artificial one we made.

    Check out this Nature article on allergies and microbes. There's some good background on the subject here.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2013: Good point! I did not think about the alteration of microbiome on our skin. I guess it might substitute for probiotic.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.