Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Treasure your endosymbionts

I don't mean to cause any identity crises, but you aren't an organism, you're a whole biome of ecosystems. (You can get the abstract only of the original article here.)

Costello et al have mapped the 100 trillion or so microorganisms inhabiting the bodies of each of several volunteers. There are distinct communities in various places, from navel to knee to gut. And you are distinctive -- the composition of these communities varies from person to person as well, although each individual's various ecosystems tend to be fairly stable.

I hope you aren't paranoid about germs -- these little guys are your friends. They keep the bad guys from taking over. Take it from me, because I've had two separate bouts with opportunistic infections that resulted when antibiotics wiped out some of my own little buddies. Once I got candidiasis -- a thrush infection -- in my throat after I took a course of antibiotics for an ear infection. The other time was much worse, a bout with the horrific C. difficile (y es muy difĂ­cil, take it from me) when I was hospitalized after surgery and the powerful antibiotics they were continually pumping into my veins wiped out the symbiotic colony in what was left of my colon.

So this is one more example of why more is less in medicine. Sometimes antibiotics really do save lives or prevent serious consequences such as amputations or rheumatic fever. But taking them when you don't need them is double plus ungood. Avoid them if you possibly can (but not if you can't!). I once again commend to your attention my friends and colleagues at the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. By reserving antibiotic use for when it's really, really needed, you will not only be taking care of your endosymbionts and therefore your own good health, you'll be helping to preserve the usefulness of antibiotics for all of humanity.

Oh yeah, don't eat factory farmed meat either. Antibiotic abuse in factory farming is just one of many good reasons.


Ferdzy said...

"Treasure your endosymbionts"

I want that on a T-shirt. Illustrated would be good. I'm seeing little cartoon dancing bacteria...

C. Corax said...

If anyone's Christmas shopping for Cervantes, you might consider getting him this:

Did I not hear or read several months back that Obama had an idea of trying to stop? discourage? the excessive use of antibiotics in agriculture? It didn't get far.