TED Conversations

Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

This conversation is closed.

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”?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 30 2013: It really is an understatement when we say microbes are important for the proper functioning of ecosystems, let alone us. Not only do they supply vital supporting ecosystem services with carbon recycling and nitrogen fixation, they also help build stronger immune systems in humans.

    Sadly, many of us only view microbes as pathogens, and not accomplices to a healthy lifestyle. The rise of allergies in industrialized countries could be due to the over use of antibiotics and cleaners that exterminate microbes. Thus, a child growing in an industrialized country may become more susceptible to allergic diseases than one growing up in a developing country due the lack of natural immune system development.

    Surely we can take probiotic supplements, but does that reverse the poor immune system of adults? Maybe those who would prosper most from a “Bacteri-ell” would be children.

    Exposure to microorganisms and other antigens (proteins from the exine of pollen, animal proteins, and foods) at an early age acts as a natural vaccination. Our body’s ability to produce antibodies and defend itself is a remarkable process. Bacteri-ell is already around us, we just need to be exposed to it at the right time.
    • Apr 30 2013: The point that most people only know bacteria as pathogens is a major issue for many things, but personal health and immune system function especially. I think a product like Bacteri-ell could have huge impacts on public perception however.

      Despite the potential benefits, I find that strategy ironic. I the same way fake tans or daily vitamins can be sold, Bacteri-ell would too. Create a solution to problem, then let the consumer create the problem for them self... the irony stemming from the good intentions to turn a profit.
      • thumb
        Apr 30 2013: I never really thought of it that may. Maybe Bacteri-ell may become the norm when we recognize the importance of our microbial cloud.
    • thumb
      May 1 2013: I do agree with the idea that too much cleanliness actually decreases the ability of immune response. According to a medical investigation in German, children in rural areas are less likely to suffer from allergies than children from urban areas. This is because rural children have more chance to get contact with nature. When they play with mud, their skin will contact with diverse microbes in the soil. The development of human’s immune system depends on external stimuli. Immunological strength is proportional to the contact with outside environment. The more chance of contact with the outside stimuli, the stronger the immunological strength will be. Thus, rural children’s immune system will establish its understanding of diverse bacteria from childhood, resulting in certain diseases resistance. Most children will not get skin allergies easily. I am not sure the applicability of “bacteri-ell” substitute that you pointed out. However, I think this is a good starting point, since people already did a good job on putting lactic acid bacteria and yeast into yogurt. In order to increase our immune response, I think people should increase their contact with nature resources, and do not pursue too much cleanliness by over-use antibiotics. What is more, educate the public that microbes are not always doing bad things and lead them to a better lifestyle to live with beneficial microbes.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.