Writing Exercise #15 – Funding

After learning on the possible impacts microbes have on mental health, I’d support funding for research that involves understanding how microbes influence disorders such as depression. As mentioned in the lectures from that week, there have been some studies on mice that show depressive symptoms can be manipulated with microbes. However, these experiments are difficult to relate to humans since the subjects studied were sterile and manually inoculated with microbes. From this project, it is possible we will learn how differences in variation of microbes can affect our mental health, and how manipulating those same microbes may alleviate or completely eradicate depressive symptoms in patients. Because the stomach and brain are directly connected via the vagus nerve, it is possible that modifications to the gut microbiota can influence our mental states. With that said, would it also be possible that our diet can influence our mental states, since the foods we eat come into direct contact with the microbes in our microbiotas?

Writing Exercise #14 – Microbial Influence

Non-infectious diseases that can be influenced by microorganisms:

  • Cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Depression
  • Conditions along Autism spectrum
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Obesity

Compared to the beginning of the term, my responses have slightly shifted while others remain the same. IBS, ASD, Crohn’s disease, and obesity were new additions. However, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression were recurring diseases. Though the diseases were listed both times, the difference is that at my knowledge on them has grown. I remember writing those three diseases at the beginning of the term because they were briefly mentioned in the course description video. Now that I have nearly completed the course and received a proper lecture on the topic, I feel more comfortable adding cancer and mental health disorders to my list.

As this course comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on a couple topics that stood out for me. The first is the overarching idea that microbes, though minuscule in size, have a significant impact on our health. I feel the reason our microbiotas are so overlooked is because we are so focused on refraining from contracting diseases from the external environment that we forget about the tiny guys already inside our bodies! The second topic I found particularly interesting is how our microbiotas are developed in the first place. We begin contact with microbes as soon as we are conceived. What really interested me was how we all have our own unique experiences but somehow end up with nearly identical microbiotas. What a concept!

Writing Exercise #11 – Peer Reviewing

As a peer reviewer, I felt it was my responsibility to help the author develop her writing to reach its full potential. Because we have been learning the same topics and methods of writing, it was easier for me to understand her thought process and the reason behind some of her stylistic choices. I tried to be critical yet encouraging. It is not the reviewer’s role to be condescending or hypercritical, but rather to provide suggestions on improvement. What I have learned through peer reviewing is that organization in a paper is important. Your points have to flow and all tie together for one big picture. I will work to produce an organized paper that my readers can easily follow and understand.

Writing Exercise #13 – W. P. Hanage

Can experiments detect differences that matter?

While the experiments performed and technologies used may aid in beginning to categorize microbes via their genes, there are limitations. We are not yet able to minutely distinguish between outcomes being related to one gene or another unless both genes are sufficiently categorized – a task which is hard to complete. Another limitation is being unable to determine key differences between closely related genes.

Does the study show causation or correlation?

This is important to consider. When determining whether something is causal, as in X causes Y, one must also ponder the possibility of confounding variables or co-variables. It is also important to recognize the possibility of Y causing X, in the event that a causal relationship proves to be possible. It is easy to mistake correlation for causation, which can be a source for controversy. Because other contributing factors are often overlooked, there can easily spark a debate over whether a variable is responsible for eliciting an observed consequence. There can be many players that cause an observed outcome, and all options must be meticulously weighed before any assumptions are made.

What is the mechanism?

While we may be able to identify a seemingly causal relationship, it is equally, if not more important to understand the microbiology behind the relationship. This is sometimes easier said than done since some microbes are presently unculturable. However, scientific methods are becoming increasingly revealing.

How much do experiments reflect reality?

Experiments involving a created microbiome are often harder to apply to real life scenarios. The study subjects used are often sterile mice that are inoculated with another specimen’s preexisting microbiota. The results may be difficult to apply to humans who are not sterile. The microbiome is also often manipulated during experiment in ways that are not normal or feasible in real life. There are also other contributing factors that influence the impact of one’s microbiome.

Could anything else explain the results?

While it may be exciting to unveil the relationship between our microbiomes and our bodily functions, we cannot overlook the fact that our bodies function as a culmination of our surroundings, both internally and externally. We cannot get swept away with microbes as the soul source of our being. It is important to consider other factors such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices that may also be impacting our health.

Writing Exercise #12 – Mental Health and Microbes

There is lots of speculation surrounding the relationship between mental health and microbes. One mechanism that has been suggested is an indirect mechanism which involves microbes causing the release of cytokines, which in return causes the brain to carry out certain actions in response to the cytokine release. Another method is that neurotransmitters produced by certain microbes may be connecting with nerve endings in the stomach, sending signals to the brain to react accordingly. A third approach involves the byproducts of microbes, which are believed to be able to enter the receptive ends of the vagus and sympathetic nerves that report back to the brain.

Because it is believed that the brain and stomach are linked systematically, both are able to influence the other. It was previously discussed how the microbiota can influence mental health. One’s nervous system can also influence his microbial community. For instance, the presence of the vagus nerve is required for a certain microorganism to have any influence on the brain. Therefore, if the nervous system is damaged, it is possible that some microbes in the microbiota will be unable to exhibit their effects on one’s mental state.

Since the brain and microbiota appear to be linked, a steady relationship must be achieved if we want both to work properly. Ways to reach an optimally functioning relationship is to take probiotics or antibiotics as needed. Few studies have been done that show a relationship between antibiotic treatments and relieving ASD symptoms. However, we must be careful to not irreversibly disrupt our microbiota, as it heavily functions in other parts of our well-being.

Writing Exercise 10 – Peer Review Process

The process of peer reviewing is a critical step for all writers. On a professional level, peer review is one of the obstacles needed to be overcome in order for a manuscript to be published in a scientific journal. For students, it is a crucial learning opportunity for criticism and evaluation when working towards a completed final draft. The process typically involves an author completing a write up of some research she performed, then submitting the write up to a colleague for review. The peer review happens when the colleague reads through the manuscript, making both suggestive and supportive comments on the piece. The purpose of the peer reviewer is to identify any areas of the original work that may need improvement. However, the reviewer should not be condescending and rather write the review as if he were writing to himself. While reviewers should be constructive, they need not be unkind. Once the review is finished, the comments are returned to the author for revisions. In academia, the revised draft is usually worked on until it becomes the completed draft. In professional writing, the revised version must be resubmitted for further reviews by colleagues, and revisions must continue to be made until the manuscript is either approved for publishing or rejected altogether.

Some benefits of peer reviews include: fresh eyes looking at your writing, the value of others’ opinions, and personally learning how to work with criticism. Some cons of peer reviews include: putting the fate of your article into someone else’s hands (especially in professional writing), the suggested revisions may not align with the information you wanted to include, and taking the revisions personally.

Writing Exercise #9 – Decreasing Exposure to Microbes

Some human behaviors that may contribute to decreased exposure to microbes include:

  • Sterilizing cooking utensils or using disposable dishware
  • Frequently sanitizing surfaces
  • Living alone
  • Frequent showers
  • Always washing hands (sort of incessantly)
  • Wearing gloves
  • Working in a highly sterile environment
  • Wearing surgical mask to prevent inhalation of airborne bacteria
  • Having a low-bacteria diet (foods such as pasteurized milk and yogurt, well-cooked meats, frozen/canned/dried fruits and veggies are typically low in bacteria)

Writing Exercise #8 – Reflection

Step 1: The overarching message of this class is what has sparked the most inspiration in me. I had no idea how influential the microbes in my gastrointestinal system are. I had no idea they contributed to so many conditions that many people consider genetic or results of lifestyle choices, such as obesity. It makes me wonder what other types of conditions can be regulated by our microbial compositions. It also interests me how our microbiotas develop over time, and eventually reach a point where it become similar to those around us, regardless of the varying experiences we’ve all had. It is something that unites us on such a minuscule level when the world around us is always changing. I’d like to learn more about ways to ensure our microbiotas are developing and accumulating the bacteria necessary for optimum health. I know we can use antibiotics and probiotics, but what are some lifestyle choices we can consciously make from birth (for our children) and throughout lives (for our children and ourselves)?

Step 3: Because the bacteria that make up our microbiota, especially those inside our bodies, can so easily breach the barrier between the endothelial surfaces and our blood, it is not a surprise that these bacteria can influence multiple aspects of our daily functioning. While they offer protection, they can also cause conditions such as sepsis, meningitis, or diarrhea. It is interesting because the same bacteria that are protective in one area of our body can be equally as harmful once they translocate to another part. For instance, some bacteria found within the stomach can cause gastric problems if they pass through the stomach and enter the duodenum. This is likely due to the fact that different bacteria populate different areas of the body due to the variations in physical and functional characteristics of our bodily regions. For example, our backs will likely have a different composition than the spaces between our toes. The two surfaces are exposed to different environments and have different physical properties such as moisture and temperature.

Step 4: In order to prepare for my final paper, I will find look at numerous sources that provide relevant information. However, I will not try to find articles that provide the exact answers I’m looking for – instead, I will draw my conclusions from the articles and use the information to build my paper. I will also take notes on the articles so it will be easier to translate the information into the appropriate jargon based on my intended audience. I will also work on including only the most relevant information while not omitting anything important.

Writing Exercise #7 – Mother and Child Microbiotas

Below are some factors a mother and/or infant may encounter that can influence the development of the child’s microbiota:

  • Hygiene and social condition – The social environment a mother puts herself in exposes her to the bacteria within that environment. Her hygiene is also important. If a mother does not wash her hands or use sterile utensils, the bacteria acquired from improper hygiene could be transferred to the fetus.
  • Smoking in pregnancy – Smoking while pregnant is highly advised against. Doing so will expose the fetus to harmful toxins and chemicals associated with cigarettes.
  • Antibiotic exposure – If a mother takes antibiotics, the antibiotics may affect bacterial development within the fetus. It could prevent some types of useful bacteria from beginning colonization, or it could cause the bacteria already present to be on a steadfast path towards antibacterial-resistance.
  • Method of feeding – Children who are breastfed are exposed to different bacteria than those who are formula or bottle fed.
  • Gestational age – Mothers have different bacteria present during different trimesters of pregnancy. Through mother-child symbiosis, the microbiota of children within the womb will change with the mother’s.
  • Childbearing method – Children birthed through the vagina are exposed to their mothers’ vaginal bacteria. Those born through cesarean section are exposed to the bacteria on the surface of their mothers’ skin.

Writing Exercise #6 – Antibiotic Philosophy

I am still a little torn on whether I would continue to take antibiotics prescribed by my doctors. Previously, I had no knowledge on the importance of our gut microbial communities. I trusted in the doctors’ recommendations. However, this class has taught me how fragile yet crucial our microbiotas are. I’ve learned the importance of having a diverse microbiota in terms of natural protection. I also realized how damaging antibiotics can be, especially since they may attack our own epithelial cells. I feel I would still trust any antibiotic prescriptions, but I would be a little wary of taking them. If the antibiotics were prescribed in high doses over a long period of time, I might ask my doctor if there are other ways to combat the infection such as through eating certain foods or perhaps taking probiotics that are known to product natural antibiotics that can fight the pathogen. I may engage in those consumption practice in tandem with a lower antibiotic dose. Overall I would be more conscientious of the impacts the antibiotic would have on my gut microbial community. I would work with my doctor to identify ways to combat the pathogen without irreversibly disturbing my gut microbes.