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 suppose that it is possible for a probiotic product to be developing that would artificially inoculate our microbiome with the right microbes. My main concern is, how do we know what the right microbes are? We currently know so very little about microbial biodiversity. Even though thousands of species of microbes live in and on our bodies, even though we ARE part microbe in a sense, there is a lot we do not know. Is there a possibility that someone will attempt to develop a probiotic product (aka Bacteriell) and that without adequate knowledge of microbial ecology, it will be woefully ineffective, or even detrimental to our health? We have to tread carefully here.... there's a lot of potential in this idea, provided some pharmaceutical company isn't too hasty.
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      Apr 30 2013: Excellent point! My hope is that will be able to gain this knowledge in the future. It would definitely be scary if someone tried to make this product without adequate research beforehand!
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      Apr 30 2013: I love your point! Yes, there is a great potentiality of microbes that can influence our health. Before knowing the effect the bacteria on our body, we cannot make many microbe products in our food. In china, many yogurts state that it includes probiotics that are good for gastrointestinal function or have some other benefits. But can we make sure they are only good for our health, no detrimental effects or other influences?

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