Thursday, 9 July 2009

Which bacteria = which illness?

In bed in the dark of night but not asleep.
This can be a curse for those with chronic low level illness or constant pain. My personal suggestion to help relieve this is listening to the radio (using an earpiece if you don't sleep alone!)
To my delight when I was tuning in overnight two weeks ago I got to hear the world-renowned geneticist Jane Peterson on the incredible Human Microbiome Project which will investigate the links between bacteria and illness.
The format of the BBC World Service programme The Forum was perfect for the weaving discussion about the trillions of microorganisms that live on or in our bodies.
The project will link microbiologists worldwide as they plan to genetically analyse and name every new microbe they find!
All this is possible because of new techniques for identifying hard-to-detect bacteria such as mycoplasma. Previous in-vitro techniques were far too outdated to detect such intelligent microbes which naturally thrive in-vivo, that is, in a living being.
Intelligent? I hear you scoffing at that description of an organism as small as a fungal spore. Of course, we all believe the tag-line, don't we? - Kills 99% of all known germs! Gotcha microbe!
But the Human Microbiome Project is about identifying bacteria that we have never known! And they are intelligent critters.
One of the points Dr Peterson made was that we have only just begun to understand how bacteria in human hosts live in "microbial communities". Medical science is "a little bit behind" she admitted, in comparison to environmental science which already understands the interconnectiveness of microbes.
For example, donors of swab samples to studies within the project will be given clear instructions on which soap to use on their skin. Absolutely not any of those anti-microbial products! Why? Because some bacteria adore clean skin. And some microbes are more persistent than others. If you kill one species then a stronger one will take their place.
Which makes me wonder...why is it that when I have taken a short course of antibiotics, say for a chest infection, then my digestive tract reacts very badly, or I get other pains?
The NHS - even if it is "a little bit behind" - is surely right to shift towards a policy of specifically targeted antibiotic use. Hopefully we will soon know the reason why in much more detail.
The Human Microbiome Project has just announced $42 million funding for studies in to microbes involved in ulcerative colitis, Crohn's Disease, psoriasis, bacterial vaginosis, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, esophageal cancer, paediatric irritable bowel syndrome and more. Quite a lot of interesting investigations to be going on with, I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment