Thursday, January 03, 2008

Allergic Reaction

Knowing the Human Genome is not enough, man also has to learn about the myriad of beasties that live within us to to better understand how they impact the health of everyone on planet earth.

"Much as we might like to ignore them, microbes have colonized almost every inch of our bodies, living in our mouths, skin, lungs, and gut. Indeed, the human body has 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. They're a vital part of our health, breaking down otherwise indigestible foods, making essential vitamins, and even shaping our immune system. Recent research suggests that microbes play a role in diseases, such as ulcers, heart disease, and obesity. "

To that end, the National Institute of Health has an initiative (among others) to do the following: "Microbiome – The Microbiome is the full collection of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.) that naturally exist within the human body. Initiatives in this area would focus on developing a deeper understanding of these communities of microbes in order to determine how they affect human health."

One area the Mirobiome project could help is in learning why allergies are exploding at exponential rates in industrial countries. In the Technology Review article titled The New Hygiene Hypothesis, Swedish pediatrician and immunologist Bengt Björkstén analyzes feces collected from kids from Sweden and Estonia to learn how microbes impact their immune functions as "allergy rates in Sweden and other wealthy nations, including the United States, have risen dramatically over the past 50 years, while rates in historically poorer nations, such as Estonia, have not."

His initial findings appear to indicate "that rising allergy rates are linked to our more antiseptic, modern lifestyle." whereby we "pampered" humans do not encounter enough foreign allergens to keep our immune systems healthy. To whit: "...babies born in urban environments have fewer microbes and fewer diverse microbial communities than those born and raised on farms. The same is true for babies born in Sweden versus those born in Estonia."

No doubt going back to the "good old days" of being really dirty is not the answer as bad hygiene comes with it's own set of problems that go beyond that of allergy but there is hope using Microbiome tech as start point because it "assesses microbial populations without having to grow them in the lab." thus speeding up research as "This approach will generate a much more extensive microbial profile and allow scientists to look for specific patterns linked to allergy. If they can pinpoint the precise factors that lead the immune system awry and boost risk for immune disorders, the researchers may be able to prevent them."

Sounds like a plan to me.
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