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 29 2013: The biggest issue is how to find the good microbes and figure out a way to distribute it to people who might benefit from its affects. I have never had any food or environmental allergies, that I know of. I consider myself one of the lucky few. I think the key is to look at people like myself and the kind of microbes I carry in order to get an idea of the types that potentially help to prevent allergens and possibly disease. In the case of disease my family on both my mother's and father's side are predisposed to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Could these things be influenced by my microbes and can I be exposed to microbes from people with a lower probability of developing diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol in order to "immunize" myself? Can my genetics be influenced by my microbes. Its an exciting thought but is it plausible or silly?
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      Eun Min

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      Apr 30 2013: There are many studies have found the relationship between human health and microbes. Here is a good paper to read: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594389
      I guess that the disease your family predisposed can be genetic, life style including food, and microbes. I think that food is a good indicator of what kind of microbes you carry in your gut because your food creates habitat for gut microbes! The microbes alter your metabolism due to their metabolism that is related in development of obesity and diabetes!
      I notice that I gained a lot since I moved to US from Korea where I used to eat fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish. Changing diet altered my gut microbes.
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      Apr 30 2013: I think your point on how microbes interact to possibly affect diseases and allergies is really interesting, innovative idea and should be the topic for further researcher. Could a certain concoction of microbes potentially protect you from heart disease? or make you more susceptible? this is incredibly intriguing. Unfortunately as many of the other participants have pointed out the lack of knowledge in regards to our skin micro biome is incredible. The bacteria and how they all interact together has not really been studied and needs to be researched in order for any advances in disease prevention or allergy prevention can even be studied.
    • Apr 30 2013: Paige, I really like your point about finding the good microbes. I was thinking along the same lines about finding the good and bad microbes and mapping them and how that is a must. However I disagree slightly with using someone like you. As you said, its likely that you have not been exposed to all the allergens that are out there. While yes we need to know the good microbes and using someone who does not have allergies would be good if we ever were to need such "bacteri-ell". To hopefully avid this I think comparing people who do have allergies and seeing what similar microbes they have is also extremely important. That is, it might be better to figure out what the bad microbes are and work on eliminating them. I have to believe that, at the moment, the amount of harmful microbes is substantially less than the helpful ones. It might be more manageable to find these harmful ones and try to target those. Possibly attacking only these harmful microbes in soaps and other sanitizers may eliminate the need for a bacteria-ell solution. Any thoughts?
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        Apr 30 2013: i completely agree that targeting only harmful microbes in soaps and other sanitizers may eliminate the need for a bacteri-ell. But how would this be possible? So many antimicrobial agents target cells that have similar components so the use of them would destroy many different kinds of bacteria good and bad. I believe this is the problem currently, because the antimicrobial agents target both good and bad bacteria. I do not know how it would be possible to just target the bad bacteria. Again more research is needed to identify fully what are the good and bad microbes on the skin. Also, since everyone has different microbes on their skin you would have to custom make this type of sanitizer to cater for peoples specific differences on their skin. We also dont know if a bad microbe on someone is actually acting like a good microbe on another
        • May 1 2013: Nicole made a really good point about how the effects of a "bad microbe" in an individual's microbiome may be good to another - and even in that person's own body it may be better to have a "bad" microbe than not. An example was mentioned earlier of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. When this bacteria is gone from the system (through antibiotics), increased levels of the hormone ghrelin hold steady and in essence tell the brain that it should keep eating, which obviously could have a negative downstream effect on weight. Lack of H. pylori is also associated with increased gastric reflux, which is known to be a factor for asthma and esophageal diseases. My point being is that it is extremely difficult as a researcher or doctor right now to be able to tell a patient in some cases, "Hey, so either you have this ailment caused by this microbe and deal with it, or we get rid of it and something else negative may happen." I'd be interested in seeing more medical research looking at the positive and negative interactions of each microbe. I read that the NIH awarded one of the scientists that found the H. pylori and ghrelin correlation funds for more research and the same NIH awarded $115 million to the Human Microbiome Project. With that project wrapping up in the next couple of years. I wouldn't be surprised to see more exciting ground breaking news on the human microbiome.


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