29 May 2009

Maybe We Shouldn't Wash Our Hands

The Los Angeles Times (5/29, Kaplan) reports, "A healthy human epidermis is colonized by roughly 1,000 species of bacteria," according to a National Human Genome Research Institute study. And, whether they "thrive in the desert of the forearm," or "in the tropical rain forest of the armpit," the "microorganisms have evolved to exploit the unique attributes of those body parts they call home." Their presence, say researchers, "is not only harmless, but also probably essential to the proper functioning of the body." There is even "one striking example of that fact: Mice bred to be entirely germ-free have smaller hearts and are unable to digest food properly."
Indeed, "people's bodies are ecosystems, believed home to trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that naturally coexist in the skin, the digestive tract and other spots," the AP (5/29, Neergaard) explains. "But scientists don't have a good grasp of which microbes live where, much less which are helpful, even indispensable, in maintaining health." The current study authors, however, "aim to change that through their 'Human Microbiome Project.'" Scientists will work to "learn what microbes" healthy participants harbor, so they "can compare the healthy with diseases of microbes gone awry -- from acute infections to mysterious conditions like psoriasis or irritable bowel syndrome." The new work regarding the skin "is part of that project."

Julia A. Segre, PhD, Elizabeth A. Grice, PhD, and colleagues began their study by collecting "bacteria from 20 sites on the bodies of 10 healthy volunteers," according to WebMD (5/28, DeNoon). "These sites ranged from the webs of the toes to the navel to the fold between the eyes." The group "found that different body sites have different mixtures of bacteria, and that different people tend to have the same kinds of bacteria in the same body sites." This "offers a clue to disease, because different skin diseases tend to appear in specific places on the body." While we "tend to think of bacteria as germs that cause disease...the new findings suggest that a healthy crop of normal bacteria prevents disease." For instance, "1.5 percent of Americans have MRSA in their nose -- but they don't show any signs of infection." Segre speculated that "other bacteria are keeping the MRSA in check and not letting it grow and create an infection," or perhaps "the MRSA is changing between when it's up in someone's nose and when it causes an infection."

In short, the researchers found "19 separate phyla and 205 different genera...on the 20 sites sampled," HealthDay (5/28, Edelson) reported. And, this diversity "was much greater than expected." Still, "all our knowledge had been based on what we could culture in the laboratory," Segre pointed out. "Culturing puts a bias on what you can study." Now, a "revolution in sequencing technology enables us to obtain information of a complexity that is astronomical compared to what was possible just a few years ago," Segre said.

If you are feeling serious about infections then you should go here.

4 comments:

Adrienne said...

When I was in nursing school and discovered we had little bugs living in our eyelashes, I totally freaked. Used to scrub the base of my eyelashes with a QTip dipped in alcohol.

Ken & Carol said...

That sounds painful or dangerous or both. Have you stopped?

Adrienne said...

I'm an optician (among other things) and yes I stopped (most the time). Different optometrists I worked with thought I was nuts. I am...

Ken & Carol said...

I am chuckling as I write—I like your style.

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