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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: I'm curious to see if we can integrate specific microbes into households and everyday objects. Would it be possible to eliminate the need for a "Bacteri-ell" by creating a symbiotic relationship between technology and microbes. If it is possible to tailor specific microbes to grow preferentially on items such as phones, faucet handles, socks, we could select for the immune boosting concoction of "right" microbial species. We could make it possible to harbor the "right" microbes based on different locations in our house for the greatest beneficial health affects.
    • Apr 30 2013: Would it be easier to spread these "right" microbes or eliminate only the "wrong" microbes?
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      Apr 30 2013: The problem with this is that as far as we know, there isn't a handful of "right" microbes that are beneficial to us. As I understand it, what makes our exterior microbial systems work is the diversity of a huge range of different microbes, which changes across different areas of our body. I would think that attempting to introduce a select few microbes would be a lot like introducing one or two species into a specific area. For example, say you somehow introduced like 10,000 deer into a state park. They're either going to be problematic due to their large numbers, or they're going to die off because the environment can't sustain the increased population, so they will return to their original numbers.

      To sum this up, I believe that our microbial systems are far too immense and diverse to alter in a beneficial way.
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        Apr 30 2013: I didn't make it clear in my original post, but I was thinking the "Bacteri-ell" would have a ton of microbial species, not just one or two. Otherwise, as Professor Green pointed out in class, it wouldn't be any more beneficial than yogurt, which only contains about 5 probiotics.

        I agree that we don't know enough about the "right" microbes currently, but this was more an idea of something that might be possible/necessary in the future. :)
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          Apr 30 2013: Seeing as (I assume) we develop our external microbial environments from our environment, do you think using "Bacteri-ell", as you call it, even under ideal conditions, would be more effective than our normal environmental interactions?

          I hope I don't sound like I'm criticizing you here, but I would think that because our environments change so much (unless you're stuck in a room 24/7), our microbial diversity would change with that, and any attempt to influence that would be somewhat behind the curve. That said, I have no idea how quickly and to what extent that diversity changes, so I could be completely wrong.
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          Apr 30 2013: Also, I'm not sure if this has been mentioned yet, but perhaps instead of "adding more", as you suggest via some sort of microbial cocktail, maybe we could just "take away less". For example, it may be possible to develop soaps and shampoos and that like that will clean your skin without essentially nuking the microbial populations that live there.
        • Apr 30 2013: This is along the lines of what I was thinking. Taking away some of the bad microbes might be an easier way to do things then trying to add the mass amounts of healthy ones
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        Apr 30 2013: Would any of you consider having a feces transplant? As weird as that sounds, it might be the most efficient way of creating a healthy gut ecosystem until we understand the complex cast that's needed for good digestion.
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          May 1 2013: Depends what way it goes in ;)
          But in all seriousness, probably not. Seems a bit overkill to me. Humans have been doing just fine for thousands of years without that kind of thing. But that's just my opinion.

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