TED Conversations

Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

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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”?


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    Apr 30 2013: Going back to a point that was brought up a couple of hours ago--that industrialized countries need more interaction with nature to acquire these microbes-- I totally agree! The hygiene and early immune challenge hypotheses could be joined with a myriad of others acting as metaphors for how far removed much of Western civilization is from the natural world.

    To me, this is less an issue of discovering, making, and selling a bacterial concoction that humans currently lack. This is not addressing the root issue, and pushing us further away from it if anything. The root issue is that many of us never spend real time in a forest, around animals, wild plants, or most importantly, any of their microbes! Reconnecting with the microbes many of us currently lack could be solved through a reconnection with the natural world, which many of us also lack. This would not only make us healthier individuals in the sense of microbes, but also through the many other ways that nature has been proven to make us happier people.

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