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 found a program through The Human Food Project that works to analyze different microbes found in participants' guts and associate them with different lifestyle patterns (ie vegetarian, c section, pet owner etc.). You send in a sample as well as a lifestyle questionnaire and they send you back a list of the bacterial community in your gut and how it compares to other incoming samples. I thought this was an interesting way to gain more widespread samples of the microbial gut for scientists while involving the public and raising awareness about the diversity and importance of microbes.

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      May 1 2013: This is the best thing ever. If they could crowd source it or something and do the sampling for free by mail I bet it would be extremely popular and would glean a lot of cool information about the biodiversity and person to person differences of human microbe ecosystems! I for one would love to know what lives in my mouth and intestines but the $99 price tag is kinda prohibitive. It's all about priorities I guess. I'm tempted to do it.

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