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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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    May 1 2013: Your inquiry reminds me of the problem with chicken pox. I'm not excessively educated in the subject, but I think if you fall sick with chicken pox very late in life, the sickness is many times more severe than if you got it at a young age. This is a good example of the decline of the immune system throughout life. I think this concept can also be applied to your question about microbes. Exposing humans to harmful viruses or bacteria early in life may save them later on, because their immune systems may be able to sufficiently deal with the threat due to its versatility in making antibodies. It's quite unfortunate that the human immune system declines (literally turns into fat) and becomes less able to compensate with foreign invaders throughout life.
    On another note, I'm surprised at the lack of products containing microbes these days. While there are a few (yogurt, kombucha, etc), science has proven that micro-organisms are extremely important to human health, both inside and outside the body. We all have Escherichia coli in our bodies, so what's wrong with adding additional (unharmful) bacteria into our systems? Because we must be careful with ingesting new strains of these kinds of organisms, I think additional research into health benefits and new methods of intaking these microbes should be conducted.

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