Writing Exercise #9 – Decreasing Microbe Exposure

Microbes are everywhere and as tiny organisms typically unseeable by the human eye, we may not realize all of the ways in which our behaviors contribute to our exposure to microbes.

Some behaviors are obvious – such as the ones where we take actions to physically block microbes from reaching us. For example, we wear gloves when handling something that may transfer dangerous microbes. In more specialized activities we may wear safety goggles or personal protective gear to prevent exposure to microbes. Another behavior that doesn’t necessarily block but rather removes the microbes before you can be exposed is sterilizing an area before you come into contact in it.

Other behaviors are less obvious but lead to decreased exposure as well. For example, avoiding very public places such as a school or workplace decreases being exposed to microbes from other people. These can be harmful, or could be pathogenic microbes which may cause you to become sick. Similarly, exposure to pets or other animals may lead to increased microbe exposure. Another behavior which leads to decreased exposure is limiting time outside or in the outdoors such as in parks, trails, or natural areas.

Writing Exercise #8 – Interesting topics and reflection

Step 1:

This class has taught me a lot about the impact microbes have on our health. Before this class, I knew that they were important and had some effects, but I did not realize the extent to which they control human health and the development of diseases. Thinking about it now, it makes sense that microbes that live in our gut can trigger inflammatory responses or immune responses just as other chemicals or compounds do in other places in our body. I think what has been most interesting to me is the use of microbes for treating diseases. I think it is a very smart but potentially risky route to take because we are dealing with live organisms which can evolve or develop traits or behaviors that we can’t always control once they have entered our body. It is amazing to me that we have been able to identify ways in which microbial communities can interact with our gut and we have specified which species promote human health and which trigger dangerous effects. However, in cases such as antibiotic resistant bacteria, we must be careful to not introduce threats to our body that would make it harder to heal or alleviate symptoms. I think I would want to learn more about the use of probiotics and antibiotics in alleviating diseases and the mechanisms behind it.

 

Step 2:

“I think it is a very smart but potentially risky route to take because we are dealing with live organisms which can evolve or develop traits or behaviors that we can’t always control once they have entered our body.”

 

Step 3:

Something I have wondered throughout the past modules in which we have learned about using probiotics is how physicians are able to control the effects of the probiotics. Unlike standard drugs which have a formulated chemical structure and dosage, probiotics are live bacteria which may have slightly different genomes and phenotypes, so the exact effect can not be guaranteed in the case that the species evolves and differentiates away from the intended use. Also, because probiotics are living, how is the dosage controlled? Bacteria typically have fairly fast life cycles and so the dosages can potentially vary – or do later probiotic pills begin with a smaller number of individuals so that by the time the patient takes the probiotic it is at the intended dosage? Additionally, each person has a unique microbiome, so are probiotics personalized to the patient or are they standard prescriptions? Probiotics seem to have a lot of uncontrollable features and so I would want to learn more about these factors and how they are controlled. I would also want to understand more of the interactions and mechanisms so that I can understand which factors are necessary to control and which are less significant.

 

Step 4:

For our final paper, I think I definitely want to look into either the use of probiotics for disease/infection treatment or prevention. I am extremely interested in disease pathways and how they can be affected and so learning about the ways in which physicians interact with these pathways in patients is something I am very curious about. Because our final paper is supposed to be about a controversial topic, I think I will begin doing some research about probiotics and what controversies surround it. Then for my paper I will explore the two sides and weigh the pros and cons of both. This will be a very good learning experience for me because I am neither for nor against probiotics at the moment so I will be able to develop my opinion on them through this paper.

Writing Exercise #7 – Maternal and infant microbiomes

As we have previously learned, our gut microbiomes can be incredibly diverse and have a significant impact on human health. However, as infants there are some factors that may affect our microbiota that we likely do not realize

Some of the more obvious ways our infant microbiomes can be affected is through diet and antibiotic use. As a baby, one of the most heavily consumed items is milk. Interestingly, the microbiota depends on whether the baby is fed with breast milk or formula milk. Breast milk contains certain probiotics not present in formula milk and thus enhance the growth of healthy bacteria.

Diet during the first couple of years is especially important in characterizing the microbiota as the baby is most sterile when born and in the next few years its gut microbial communities will develop to be what they will be as the infant grows to be an adult. For antibiotic use, something that is interesting is that if a mother took antibiotics during the pregnancy, this could impact the antibiotic interventions during childbirth.

Another notable way which could influence the colonization of the microbial community is the mode of delivery. Whether the baby is delivered through vaginal birth or a C-section affects the first exposure to a microbial community. If the baby is born vaginally, they will adopt a microbiota similar to the mother’s vaginal microbiota, but through a C-section will result in the infant having a microbiota more similar to the skin microbiota.

Writing Exercise #6 – Antibiotics

Antibiotics can be used for a wide variety of bacterial infections and diseases and with more advancements, more antibiotic treatments have become available. However, we must be careful about our antibiotic use and make sure to be intentional so that it does not become dangerous. I have never had to use antibiotics, but my personal philosophy about how and when to take antibiotics is that it should only be used when there is a guarantee that it will achieve its desired response (curing, treating, or alleviating an infection/disease). Antibiotics can be very beneficial for our health and should not be dismissed or overlooked, but if there is another method of treatment that works as well or better, I would suggest using that treatment instead.

The danger with using antibiotics is that it is meant to interact with living bacterial species and thus there is the possibility that the species may evolve to become resistant to that antibiotic. Bacterial species often proliferate very quickly and thus new generations can quickly evolve with genes that allow it to resist and survive antibiotic use, rendering the antibiotics useless and making it even more difficult to eradicate the invasive infection. Therefore, in cases where antibiotic use is the best approach, the patient should make sure to follow the instructions closely to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Writing Exercise #5 – Nutritional Choices

The choices we make in foods and products we consume have a large effect on our gut health. This should be unsurprising as this foods we eat go to our gut to be digested and thus what we choose to send there can easily influence our microbial communities. Therefore, while our choice may be intentional or unintentional, it is beneficial to be aware of the different effects our nutritional choices have on our gut.

I am fairly intentional about which foods I am consuming to try and eat healthy as well as get a good balance in my nutrition. For example, I try to get a good balance of meat and vegetables and I try to eat leafy greens when I can to get in more fiber in my diet or eat fruits like blueberries. I also like to make sure I am eating enough carbohydrates and healthy fats for energy throughout the day. Within balancing meat, vegetables, and carbs, I try to vary the source of each of these to promote a diverse diet and variety of nutrients. This helps promote a healthier and more diverse gut microbiota. For example, red meat can be potentially harmful to our gut because it promotes the proliferation of bad bacteria, so I try to balance this out with fish and chicken in my diet.

As for choices that I make that unintentionally benefit my gut, there are some foods which I consume a lot of for my personal taste and not for nutritional value. Fruit makes up a large part of my diet simply because I love fruit. However, after conducting some research I found that many fruits that are good for maintaining health in the gut. For example, apples increase SCFA content, which is one of bacteria’s favorite nutrients. Another ingredient that I found is actually very beneficial for our gut is garlic; garlic increases bifidobacteria in our gut, which we have found decreases the risk of gastrointestinal disease.

I do not use supplements, prebiotics, or probiotics besides those which are already present in my food. If I were to use these, however, I could potentially have a healthier gut and it would stimulate the colonization of healthy bacteria and decrease the presence of harmful ones.

Writing Exercise #4 – Rhetorical Precis

(1) Eero Mattila from Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland in his clinical study titled “Fecal Transplantation, Through Colonoscopy, Is Effective Therapy for Recurrent Clostridium difficile Infection” (2012) discusses that fecal transplants are effective treatments for C. difficile infections. (2) Mattila describes the methods for his clinical study done with 70 patients with C. difficile infections and provides each patient’s results of the treatments as evidence for the successful therapy method. (3) The purpose of Mattila’s study was to determine the short- and long-term effects of fecal transplants using colonoscopies in order to determine if it was a safe and effective treatment method for gastrointestinal diseases. (4) Throughout the article, Mattila describes his research, creating a scholarly and transparent discussion with doctors and microbial researchers.

 

Mattila E, Uusitalo-Seppala R, Wuorela M, Lehtola L, Nurmi H, Ristikankare M, Moilanen V, Salminen K, Seppala M, Mattila PS, Anttila V-J, Arkkila P. 2012. Fecal Transplantation, Through Colonoscopy, Is Effective Therapy for Recurrent Clostridium difficile Infection. Gastroenterology 142:490–496.

Writing Exercise #3 – Gut Microbiomes

When we are born, our body begins with a basal gut microbial community, and this microbiome can change and fluctuate as we grow based on a variety of factors. While we may not realize it all the time, our behaviors and habits affect our gut microbiome and thus we have more control over it than we know.

There are some behaviors such as taking antibiotics or probiotics that have a more obvious effect on the microbiome. Antibiotics destroy different bacteria in your gut, therefore should only be used if prescribed so that one does not destroy their natural healthy microbiota. Therefore, they are beneficial if used correctly, but could otherwise be potentially dangerous.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which are beneficial for your health and can be used either as a supplement in your diet, or for some specific cases. For example, if you use antibiotics, probiotics are helpful to replace the good bacteria in your gut. They are also helpful to simply maintain the balance of good and bad bacteria. Many doctors prescribe this if you will be travelling out of country to a place which may disrupt your gut microbiome. 

However, besides the obvious ways to affect your gut microbiome, there are also more subtle behaviors which affect it such as your diet such as the food your consume. Different foods contain different nutrients and thus render different metabolic responses when you consume them. This can affect the different enzymes present and produced within your gut. Bacteria benefit from different nutrients and thus in general, a more diverse diet will lead to a more diverse gut microbiome. Thus in general, having a healthy, nutritious and diverse diet can be beneficial, while having a poor diet can be detrimental.

Writing Exercise #2 – HPV Vaccine

Growing up, the yearly doctor’s visit was dreaded by many because of the knowledge that they might have to get a shot that day. However, these shots are extremely important to get because they prevent acquiring diseases that can be extremely dangerous or affect patients throughout their life. One example of such vaccine is for human papillomavirus (HPV), which cannot be cured.

Based on the 2011 article written by Sarid and Gao, there are several strains of HPV which can be dangerous. While HPV is known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can also lead to cancers in both men and women, making it even more important to protect against. Although there are several different strains of HPV, HPVs 16, 18, 31, and 45 should be prioritized to be covered in a new treatment. It can become expensive to develop vaccinations for each strain, and thus while it would be ideal to cover all strains, it would be more cost effective and quicker to finish developing and offer to patients to only cover the high risk strains. The aforementioned strains (16, 18, 31, 45) are the highest risk, causing about 80% of cervical cancer.

Because HPV is sexually transmitted, it is important to administer the vaccination before patients become sexually active. It is commonly recommended to be administered at age 11 or 12 and because it cannot be cured, only treated, it is best to vaccinate young adults earlier to make sure all patients are protected.

Writing Exercise #1 – Human Noninfectious Diseases

When someone sneezes or coughs, everyone’s immediate response is to move out of range. We are familiar with germs that can get us sick, causing infectious diseases such as the flu or a cold. However, what is less commonly known is that non-infectious diseases such as some cancers as well as Alzheimer’s disease are actually caused by similar microbes.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one such example, associated with parasites and noroviruses, and similarly inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, while genetics and environmental factors are still significant impactors, recent studies have also shown growing evidence that the gut microbiota plays a role in influencing obesity. Two other examples, among likely a long list of diseases, include asthma and diabetes.

For those of us entering healthcare and medical fields, understanding how microbes interact with the human body is crucial to understanding disease pathology. I initially did not actually know that microbes influenced diseases like Alzheimer’s, and only thought of diseases such as IBS and inflammatory bowel disease where the presence of microbes is obvious. With this in mind, I am extremely excited to learn more about microbial influences in different diseases so that I can develop a better understanding of how we are able to treat and ideally cure these diseases.