If I were in charge of a new research project, and it were going to be a project that involved the human microbiome, I’d want to focus on how changing the microbial system in our bodies would influence obesity. I’d be interested in knowing what fecal transplants can do, but more importantly, how to maintain a healthy microbiome that allows for easier weight loss. In addition to transplants, simply culturing the organisms associated with weight loss can open many avenues to treatment, from using them in probiotic food to pills.
The list of diseases I know to be at least correlated with microbes has expanded since the start of this course; they include: Gastric ulcers, cancer, IBS, obesity, metabolic dysfunction such as diabetes, autoimmune disease, and then there is the emerging field of study involving microbes and mental health. What I learned in this course is mainly how these different diseases could be caused by microbes, rather than the fact that these microbes were associated with the diseases in the first place.
In comparison to my first writing prompt, it seems that the main addition to my knowledge of microbes and human health involved gastric diseases associated with H. Pylori. I did not know that H. Pylori has been heavily associated with cancer before I took this class.
In the article written by William P. Hanage, there are 5 questions to be asked: Can experiments detect differences that matter? Does the study show causation or correlation? What is the mechanism? How much do experiments reflect reality? And could anything else explain the results? These questions are addressed through a skeptical lens through the following respective answers: 1) The experiments involved in studying the human microbiome are largely dependent on the use of the 16S RNA gene-a gene that is ancient and essentially universal to bacterial life. Although this kind of sequencing allows for the vast identification of bacteria, this only allows for the identification that the organisms in question are bacteria alone-it does not account for what species they are. This is where microbiome research needs improvement, but it shouldn’t be long before these improvement needs are met. Many studies in microbiology end up being more conclusive in correlative results rather than causative ones, however, correlations do signify a relation between the two variables. Whether that relation is truly causative is yet to be discovered in most microbiological studies. The mechanism by which scientists carry out microbiological studies include ways to test for metabolism, taxa properties, and protein structures. This allows for more specificity in how the correlations in question could be related. The experiments so far mainly reflect the correlation between microbes and health, more so than how it’s done. So, these studies brush the surface of reality, but not the whole of it just yet. In addition to correlative results, one needs to consider what causes what: Do microbes cause changes in health? Or do changes in health cause the proliferation of a certain microbiome?
The questions and the answers they bring are significant to scientific literature because throughout the course, it was easy to assume significant causative relations between microbes and human health. These questions make us take a step back and still take any information with a grain of salt.
The ways in which microbes influence our brain functionality and mental health is many. The gut microbiome is being studied for many mental differences and disorders such as depression, anxiety, and autism. There is a very well known microorganism in the scientific community known as Toxoplasma Gondii, and it is well documented to influence the behavior of infected rodents in order to sexually reproduce. In addition to rodents, more and more evidence is being uncovered about T. Gondii that it can influence human behavior as well. Examples of behavior associated with T. Gondii include neuroticism, aggressiveness, reckless behavior, and even suicide. As for gut microbes, they seem to play a role in regulation of neurotic thinking, and perhaps even how one manages their diet. This can cause a feedback loop of bacteria influencing the brain to function and decide in certain ways, while those functions and decisions influence the kind of microflora inhabiting the gut. Hormonal and dietary changes influenced by the nervous system will in turn have an impact on the kind of microbes living in the gut.
What I learned as a reviewer is that I need to understand my own style of thinking and writing more clearly before I start to give someone else advice. Even though I gave my full honest opinions on the essay I reviewed, I was unsure of how my own competence in writing compared to the that of the author of the essay I evaluated. That being said, it also gave me more confidence into knowing what to look for in a good paper, which in turn will help me know how to interpret criticism in a way that allows me to improve and correct my essay in a more precise manner.
During peer review, the article needs to be evaluated for accuracy, details, relevancy, and rationality behind any opinions presented. This is done by asking questions regarding as what the reader understood about the article, what studies were used, and was the author’s opinion clear and backed by sufficient evidence and reasoning. The pros of peer reviewing include allowing for multiple opinions to refine the work in question, allowing for interpretations and corrections that are well rounded. The cons of peer reviewing is that peers themselves are less experienced than professionals, and may not entirely understand what to look for in the article. Not to mention, biases amongst the peers doing the reviewing could contribute to an unnecessary skew in the way that information is corrected or further understood.
Through the advancement of medicine and hygiene, our interaction with microbes has changed drastically, from fighting disease to discovering how non-pathogenic microbes influence our physiology. Changes in behaviors that influence our microbiome include: washing hands, taking showers, brushing one’s teeth, washing/cleaning possessions such as laundry, dishes, and furniture, getting vaccinated influences what pathogens are capable of infecting us on an individual and herd level, and spending fewer hours going outside and interacting with others influences the kind of microbes we’re exposed to. Our fear of germs overall without understanding the whole picture of the microbiome is probably the most influential change in behavior overall, for this fear is what drives the change in behaviors listed above.
Part 1: What I found most interesting about this class so far is the effect microbes have on diseases previously not thought to be involved with infection. Such diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity. Topics we have not yet covered but I anticipate we will cover based on the introductory videos from week one include allergies, autoimmunity, and mental health. Even though I briefly learned about this a long time ago, I’m still somewhat surprised to know that there’s an emerging body of evidence to show that cardiovascular health is linked to dental hygiene; something that seemed completely unrelated for a long time. Briefly dabbing into week 7 content, I am looking forward to learning about how our microbiome interacts with and affects our immune system, particularly in the case of autoimmunity. We’re teeming with microbes, I wonder how much of our health really is their doing rather than innate errors of the body.
Part 2: Mental health. I have heard of Toxoplasma Gondii infecting a large number of people around the globe. I’ve done a fair amount of research because this parasite is fascinating to me. It’s interesting because although it was previously thought to be asymptomatic in immunologically healthy people, but new evidence suggests it affects our brains in similar fashion to mice, being correlated with mental disorders such as depression, neuroticism, and schizophrenia. There’s also evidence of our gut microbes having influence on our mental health and food choices, especially since most of the body’s serotonin is stored in the intestines. As someone who deals with mental health issues, I want to be able to understand more about what is happening to the brain under the influence of our microbiome. If more evidence can show relations between microbes and brain function, then better treatments can be made available. Not to mention that perhaps diet can influence mental health and the microbiome is in the middle of this connection.
Reflection: I’ll prepare for my paper by researching more information on how our microbiome can influence our mental health, along with overall brain function. I’m excited to see what I’ll learn.
There are many factors that could influence the health and colonization of the mother and child during pregnancy. Such factors include where the mother lives, what she eats, what her other health habits are like, whether or not she gets and infection during pregnancy (thinking of Zika or Toxoplasma Gondii), how she gives birth (C-section or natural), and what she feeds her child postnatally.
Where the mother lives can determine what kind of microbiome she has due to many factors such as how developed her homeland is, what kind of climate it has, and the quality of medical care available. What she eats can have an effect on her microbiome and subsequently, what kind of microbes might be predisposed to colonizing what will become the newborn child. Health habits can affect her microbiome, such as the over or underuse of antibiotics, smoking, and drinking. Positive examples also include exercise and hygiene. Infection during pregnancy can have detrimental effects on the mother and child, especially Zika and T. Gondii because they can cause brain damage in the fetus. It has been shown that birth by C-section causes the child to harbor microbiota most similar to the mother’s skin, whereas a natural birth leads to a colonization profile similar to the mother’s birth canal. When a child breastfeeds, they not only are nourished by the mother’s milk, but the microbes that live on her skin.
I do not remember the last time I took antibiotics, if ever. I’m rarely sick, and when I am, it tends to resolve on its own. If I were to take antibiotics, however, I’d make sure that I’d really need them instead of using them as a first option. Actually, I apply this method of self care to any form of medicine since I don’t want to risk hurting my body by taking medicine that I may not even need if I can help it. In the event I needed antibiotics, I will have made sure to exhaust all other options regarding my health and the infection in question, and to follow the instructions carefully so I do not contribute to antibiotic resistance. After healing from the infection, I’d want to repair any damage done to my microbiome by consuming probiotic foods and researching the drug I will have taken to know what specific species could have been affected. The experiences I have in order to shape my opinion come from accumulated knowledge of how antibiotics work, the risks associated with resistance, and the kind of care and dedication I have to my health.