This past week we heard a talk by David Relman, one of the leading researchers studying the microbiome at Stanford. What is the microbiome? Well if you count the number of cells in the human body there are 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. There are also more unique gene products made by bacteria. And there are also other microbes like viruses and fungi, which also live inside of us. Most of the bacterial cells we talk about live in the gut and are critical for breaking down food. And when I say breaking down food, we all know what I mean. Microbiome research is the study of all of these things, and many of these studies use high throughput DNA sequencing to understand what is alive inside of us.
Dr. Relman is also an infectious disease doctor, and he spoke to us about trying to change the mindset of infectious disease doctors. Most infectious disease doctors are called in because a microbe is making someone sick, and their job is to blast (or at least nudge) the patient with antibiotics until the microbe is killed off. But Dr. Relman is advocating for a different view on infectious disease: that of a park ranger. The microbiome alive inside of us is a complex ecological habitat, not unlike a rain forest. And maybe instead of hunting out and destroying the one bug that’s causing us harm, infectious disease as a field can be more about fostering an ecosystem that supports a homeostasis of health.