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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: "Bacteri-ell" would be a very difficult concept to bring to fruition. Assuming they follow the same ratios as other microbes, we'd only be able to culture a tiny percentage of the necessary microbes to simulate exposure. When factoring in those microbes that wouldn't support industrial scale production, or those that wouldn't survive transport from point of production to point of use, or those that wouldn't be conducive with the application method, the resulting product probably wouldn't surpass the paltry diversity found in "probiotics" already on sale.

    Logistically, I do not suspect that a supplement could ever equal natural exposure.
    • May 1 2013: Current computer modeling research is hoping to create a blueprint for mapping the entire universe, or how about the global climate models... I think in comparison to these, mapping the human microbiome is quite reasonable. Its easy to point out what we don't know currently, but exploring the world of the unknown and making mistakes is the most human thing possible. After all, think of how many patient who have died in the pursuit of advancing medicine.
      • May 1 2013: It isn't simply a matter of figuring out what is in us. Only a tiny fraction of the microbes a "bacteriell" product would need to contain can be supported outside the body in a carefully controlled laboratory setting. The product would require them to survive in a bottle on a truck travelling between the production facility and the store 2 timezones away.

        "Mapping the universe" is a romantic but thoroughly inappropriate comparison. A better metaphor would be kelp farming in the Sahara.

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