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 29 2013: These are both good points. There is also the factor of people being overprescribed antibiotics. After time the antibiotics no longer are effective on that individual because the bacteria have become immune to it. Or there are completely resistant strains of bacteria, like MRSA for example, which is a strain of staph bacteria that has become resistant to all antibiotics that normally treat staph infections. Maybe the solution should not be to come up with a concoction of good bacteria to replace what we have already killed, but instead stop over-using antibiotics and teach people to realize that cleaner does not always mean better.
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      Apr 29 2013: I think I agree with some of your points here. People can easily over-use antibiotics and their bodies can become immune to even the good bacteria. Like you said above, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and this goes with cleanliness as well. We can over clean our own bodies and take away needed species of microbes from our skin. I think probiotics will become a bigger part of the industrial world that Anna is referring to. Being able to take living microbes back into our systems is one way to undo the damage of over-using antibiotics. Also just bringing into our industrial world pieces of nature like live plants can make a huge difference as well. Sometimes just opening the windows in an office can be enough to diversify the indoor microbes with some new species.
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      Apr 30 2013: Breena: The good bacteria is not really supposed to replace what has already been killed, but rather as a means to expose people to microbes that they haven't even encountered yet. I agree that the use of antibiotics, especially in children, needs to be investigated further in order to prevent adverse effects.

      Marissa: I like your point about bringing more nature into industrial regions. There was a TED conversation you might be interested in (link below) where a guy suggested that cities should have "controlled" muddy playground for children. The idea is that these playgrounds would allow youths to be exposed to good microbes, as they are on farms. http://www.ted.com/conversations/12518/should_cities_create_dirty_mud.html
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        Apr 30 2013: That makes sense. Sometimes I am just like, "if this wasn't around in the world everything would be great, so lets get rid of it!" Which doesn't actually work in the real world. I looked at the TED talk you recommended for Marissa, very interesting. I was reading someone's idea about creating technology that can have a symbiotic relationship with specific microbes. What do you think of that idea?
      • May 1 2013: Anna, does this remind you of the "pox parties" kids had/have growing up where every parent flocked to the first child that got chicken pox so that they could get it out of their children's systems? I'm not sure if that was a thing when you guys were young, but it was when I was. Wouldn't it be a funny sight to see all of the "urban" kids sent to the farm while their immune systems were still pretty plastic so that they could potentially be exposed to good microbes!?

        (P.S. most doctors don't recommend "pox parties")
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          May 1 2013: Now that you mention it, I totally remember that! Parents definitely used to be on the look out for the first chance to expose their child to someone else with chicken pox. Hopefully urban kids do get a chance to visit farms, for various reasons.

          Thanks for bringing up pox parties. I had totally forgotten about that; pretty amusing.

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