A Micro Case for Leeching off Your Parents

The microbiome is a fascinating world of wonder. Not much of what goes on in there is known to the world and that mystery is dissipating as more research comes out. I am slowly starting to find that this research fascinates me on my journey as a scientist, so I thought I’d share a short story of the benefits of leeching on your parents. 

Mutual Benefits of a Healthy Gut

Your microbiome is unique to you and is changing constantly every day. With the help of others in your household, research shows that mice held in the same captivity can influence on another’s microbiome. In short, as my professor described it, get yourself one family member eating healthy and drinking kombucha and their superpowered microbiome might begin to rub off on you.  Leech off them as much as you want to, because the microbiome is the gift that keeps on giving. Erring on the side of caution, transmissible microbiomes were demonstrated to occur in mice models. Whether or not this occurs in humans is left to be seen. After all, we are not kept in isolated cages with each other, and I would hope that most of us maintain our homes at a level above our rodent relatives. 

The Cost of Health

As kids, we are forced into leeching off our parents. But as we grow up the leeching turns into a desire to give back to them. If you’re in a stage of life where you’re not totally reliant on your parents but also not 100% independent, as I am, then maybe the first step would be to upgrade your microbiome with the hope of upgrading theirs. But what constitutes an upgrade? To answer this question, the research isn’t clear on what a healthy microbiome looks like. Any two healthy people could have completely different microbiota living inside them – this tells us that a perfectly healthy microbiome is healthy in its own dynamic way. That is why taking a store-bought probiotic, a product that usually contains Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium strains, is not a one size fits all kind of deal. Unlike most antibiotics that kill harmful bacteria, probiotic intervention doesn’t necessarily mean the treatment will be effective. 

Hoping to upgrade your own microbiota in a truly constructive way requires personalized medicine. This considers your genetics, the environment you live in, lifestyle, and the composition of your microbiota. Given that bacteria in your body outnumber human cells, the complexity and variation make personalized medicine a perpetual work in progress. A task that will, in my opinion, require advanced machine learning and algorithms to process this complexity and direct a course of intervention. Even with that analysis, I would imagine that tailoring a probiotic to suit one’s needs will be expensive. “Hey mom, could I please borrow a couple thousand dollars? I promise I’ll pay you back!” 

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