What is a Microbiome?
The human microbiota is the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in and on an individual’s body. Many of these microbes are beneficial to the host and aid in the body’s natural processes (like digestion, for example). The genomes of these microorganisms are called the human microbiome.
There are ten times more microbe cells than human cells in a given individual’s body. This collection of bacteria, fungi and archaea, consisting of about 100 trillion cells, plays an important role in an individual’s health.
Every human has a unique makeup of these microorganisms, specific to that person. Many of your microbes are acquired from your mother during vaginal birth, but your makeup will change throughout your life based on the people and places you encounter.
Research is beginning to show that this makeup influences many health factors ranging from obesity and diabetes, to depression and anxiety, to maybe even some forms of cancer. And it’s not that specific microbes are causing these disorders, but often a lack there of, or perhaps the wrong combination, we’re not sure yet.
Many microbiologists and medical professionals (and even some anthropologists) are currently studying the ways in which our microbiota affects our health. Experiments with fecal transplants, which alter an individual’s gut bacteria, are being done to treat digestive tract diseases. Many research groups are building large databases from bacteria samples taken from thousands of individuals. Though this research is still in its infancy, some very exciting ideas are emerging, and so are some important ethical questions.
The MSA is interested in the stories your microorganisms tell about you. Since a human’s microbiota shifts over time depending on the different environments, foods, people, pets, etc. that he or she engages with, your microbiome becomes a language that tells the story of your life. If properly collected, analyzed, and essentially “translated” could your bacteria reveal this information to the world?
This is not possible yet, but as this knowledge advances and as the technologies are refined, the question of personal privacy might be an important consideration.
The MSA is an organization that works proactively to help you maintain your personal privacy. By manipulating your own microbiota through a variety of methods, the power to control your own data and personal information at a biological level lies with you.