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: I think this is quite a brilliant idea, however I would change a few things. Instead of having 1 general kind of "Bacteri-ell" maybe there are multiple kinds, one general kind can have microbes that have been proven to have positive effects, with a cocktail of microbes that can vary based off the specific kind and what the desired affects are, for example the bliss microbe mentioned by Jessica green in her TED talk on bioinformed design. (http://www.ted.com/talks/jessica_green_good_germs_make_healthy_buildings.html).

    As well an answer to the original question of strengthening the immune system, this could be done by applying a different kind that could have trace amounts of microbes that are detrimental and are required to build a strong immune system, those being ideal for children as discussed by so many previously in this conversation.

    Although there may be probiotics in existence that do what I have discussed I feel as if in time as we grasp a better understanding of microbial diversity, alongside new methods of analyzing the human micro-biome, that we will have options like this "Bacteri-ell" as opposed to needing to receive the resistance first hand.
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      Mario R

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      Apr 30 2013: This seems like a really cool idea Benjamin! It only makes sense that our bodies would have a carrying capacity for microbes though. One questions that I can think of, what happens if the microbes start to become so abundant that they start to compete for the available resources that our bodies offer? Would this lead to a decrease in certain microbe species, and an increase in other microbe species as they do compete for? Maybe that would be the point of making multiple concoctions of microbes? This way they may be less likely to start competing with each other, or if one species does out compete another, the out competed species could be reintroduced with a different "Bacteri-ell" concoction.
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        Apr 30 2013: That's a really good point... It is really difficult for us to predict how our current microbiomes would respond to regular probiotic exposure! I'm not even sure how we would go about studying that kind of interaction... in vitro research could never replicate the complexity of a complete, functioning microbiome, and there is so much diversity (beta diversity??) amongst people, let alone between species, that the applicability of animal models would be questionable.
      • Apr 30 2013: That's a great point. I feel as of we would need a lot more research dedicated to the microbial diversity of humans, and to test the products unfortunately the only thing I would suggest would be testing the products on a closely related species. Maybe chimps, however that raises the question of does genetic or phylogenetic similarities correlate to microbial similarities.
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      Apr 30 2013: I mentioned this to someone else, but I was also wondering about the necessity of different kinds of "Bacteri-ell" Maybe "Bacteri-ell" would have to be tailored to the individual (maybe his and hers? haha.) However, maybe there is an ideal universal combination for our "microbe cloud." Obviously, we aren't very close to having this knowledge at this time. Thanks for bringing up this point!
      • Apr 30 2013: No thank you for this idea! Haha, yes we have much to learn about microbial diversity especially in relation to our personal biome.

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