Ideas and Concepts

Any biology text book you read at school can’t prepare you for Bonnie Bassler’s mind-blowing statement, that we are comprised of ‘90% bacterial cells and a mere 10% human cells’. (1)

Add to that the fact that on a sub-atomic level our bodies comprise 90% empty space* and only 10% matter and that oxygen and carbon which are major constituents in our bodies, originated in the dust of exploding supernova and we have a very different description of the human body, than the one we subscribe to in our daily lives.

Information of this kind is overwhelming and one can’t help but take stock. What on earth are we if we are only 10% stuff and 90% of us, is non-human bacteria?

As a species we evolved from bacteria. When we leave the womb, (the only time we comprise100% human cells) we are home to these teaming colonies of microbes, that have life and functions all of their own, in that, which is us their hosts, our bodies, (which in comparison to them is a vast empty space)

We too exist in the vastness of space, we contemplate our origin and the purpose of our being and, if we think such thoughts, our microbiome is responsible in part for that thought process too. Not only do microbes carry out many functions within our bodies but the ‘intestinal microbiome’ has played ‘a critical role in the development of even the brain itself from the time of birth’ (2)

The bacteria in our gut can synthesise neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and gaba as well as being able to distinguish them in their host, which ‘‘suggests a bidirectional environment where the microbiome can influence the host and the host influence the microbiome. This … and its mediation by a commonly shared evolutionary pathway of intercellular signaling suggest that “they monitor us” and “we monitor them” (3)

Bacteria communicate with one another, both inter and intra species, through a chemical language, Quorum Sensing. Working together as multicellular organisms, they carry out tasks that they could not accomplish if they simply acted as individuals. This can all descend into disarray and decay but for the most part they work harmoniously within the given whole.

The human ‘family’ can be seen to face a choice in this global age. Do we stand apart as individuals or work together with a common understanding to achieve our goals? Surely if simple, single-celled microbes can achieve this surely we can.

1. TED talk, How Bacteria “Talk”

2. Effect of intestinal microbial ecology on the developing brain. Douglas-Escobar M, Elliott E, Neu J JAMA Pediatr. 2013 Apr; 167(4):374-9.).

3. Lyte M. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Apr; 74(4):634-8.

*Not including magnetic waves.