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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    May 1 2013: Our country and others has become afraid of everything and i greatly think that this fear of nature is causing the rise in medical problems that arise. The healthy person has a strong gut microbiota, which contains a variety of bacteria that we must come into contact with as we grow. If we do not add these microbes to our body at specific ages, then we create an altered population that won't provide the services that we need to survive. I think these increased allergy levels are the result of not allowing our children and ourselves to maintain healthy microbiomes. I think the idea of Bacteri-ell is a very hopeful outlook for the future, yet very unlikely due to the reality of these microbiomes. They are not simply a single bacteria or even a few different species. Rather they are a mass collection of 1000s of bacteria that occupy every region of our bodies. They vary greatly from one spot to the next and especially from one person to the next. Our gut microbiota is actually highly sensitive to what we eat and creates a population that has the maximum fitness in this environment. If we were to create the "right" concoction of microbial species that we want for one person, it will not be the "right" concoction for another. Depending whether you like to eat fish and a salad or a steak and potato for dinner can alter your microbiome. So in order for this to work you would need an array of microbial lotions and drinks in order to be beneficial to different individuals in different areas.
    • May 1 2013: I'd like to think of Bacteri-ell like a custom suit (but maybe increased by a few factors of complexity). With the proper measurements for each individual, an outline can be made and then tailored to required specifications. This maybe too expensive and complex at first, but surly there's an ass for every seat... more realistically, people with extreme immune system deficiencies conditions could benefit from this. In example, my cousin had Hodgkin's lymphoma. After returning home from treatment, she was needed to be in near sterile environments (which limits you to... almost every where). Maybe, a Bacteri-ell could have sped up her recovery or at least act as a buffer, allowing her to be subjected to less sterile conditions for periods of time.
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        May 1 2013: That's a really good use that i didn't seem to think about, but helping out in a medical recovery sense would be a very helpful use even if we couldn't make these products for everyday use. It could still be very helpful in small dosages but seems to be similar to what we would already have with probiotic medicine. Was she on any kinds of probiotics when she was recovering?

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