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Are Human Beings Organisms Or Living Ecosystems?

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the little-of-column-a,-little-of-column-b dept.

Medicine 397

Hugh Pickens writes "Every human body harbors about 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering human cells 10 to one. There's been a growing consensus among scientists that bacteria are not simply random squatters, but organized communities that evolve with us and are passed down from generation to generation. 'Human beings are not really individuals; they're communities of organisms,' says microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai. 'This could be the basis of a whole new way of looking at disease.' Recently, for example, evidence has surfaced that obesity may well include a microbial component. Jeffrey Gordon's lab at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published findings that lean and obese twins — whether identical or fraternal — harbor strikingly different bacterial communities that are not just helping to process food directly; they actually influence whether that energy is ultimately stored as fat in the body. Last year, the National Institutes of Health launched the Human Microbiome Project to characterize the role of microbes in the human body, a formal recognition of bacteria's far-reaching influence, including their contributions to human health and certain illnesses. William Karasov, a physiologist and ecologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes that the consequences of this new approach will be profound. 'We've all been trained to think of ourselves as human,' says Karasov, adding that bacteria have usually been considered only as the source of infections, or as something benign living in the body. Now, Karasov says, it appears 'we are so interconnected with our microbes that anything studied before could have a microbial component that we hadn't thought about.'"

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Head, shoulders knees and toes (1, Funny)

S7urm (126547) | about 5 years ago | (#27584449)


We are obviously our own eco-system.....we have a song and everything

Re:Head, shoulders knees and toes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584661)

More than just goatse [goatse.fr] then.

Obesity & Bacteria (5, Interesting)

plague3106 (71849) | about 5 years ago | (#27584461)

So the bacteria in the twins is different... why is it worded in such a way as to imply the different bacteria is the reason that one is obese and the other isn't, instead of the type of bacteria changed because being obese (and the eating that goes along with it) favor one type over the other.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (4, Insightful)

3p1ph4ny (835701) | about 5 years ago | (#27584621)

I'm not an obesity apologist (or at least, I don't think I am), but I think it's important to recognize that not everyone who is obese just eats cheeseburgers all day. In fact, my diet is pretty piss poor, but I'm thin. Similarly, I know obese vegetarians.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1, Insightful)

aliquis (678370) | about 5 years ago | (#27584733)

It's how much energy you consume vs how much you use which decide if you get fatter, stay the same or thinner.

Not the quality of the food.

10000 kcals of spinach and you will most likely get more fat.
500 kcals from chocolate and you'd lose weight.

Also, while I'm vegan, not all vegetarian food is good food, even less the best food. Omnivores can eat everything so they have a wider selection and can get all the benefits from vegetarian food AND other food.

Quite a lot of (teen) vegetarians eat bad.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (4, Informative)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 years ago | (#27584947)

It's how much energy you consume vs how much you use which decide if you get fatter, stay the same or thinner.

Not the quality of the food.

10000 kcals of spinach and you will most likely get more fat.
500 kcals from chocolate and you'd lose weight.

Not exactly. It's not how much energy you consume, but how much energy you gain out of it. Given the right ecosystem in your bowels, you might be able to process 100% of that choccolate-energy, but only 10% of that spinach-energy.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584735)

Let A denote "is fat" and B denote "eats cheeseburgers all day".

You are a counterexample to B=>A and your first invalid argument is to use that to conclude A=>B.

Your second fallacy, now epistemological, is to turn B from a general insult meaning "stuffs self with crap food all day" to the literal meaning "swallows minced beef and cheese slices all day". Lots of vegetarians stuff themselves with crap food all day. There is no reason to think that not eating meat means you're eating more healthily. I say this as a vegan of ideal weight who recognises how hard it is to eat healthily vs the man who eats an unrestricted, balanced diet.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584743)

I've been struggling with obesity for some time now. I eat more healthy than many of my slimmer friends and I often work out more, yet I still weigh considerably more.

Does this mean that it's impossible for me to loose weight? No way, I have been exercising more and eating better and I know have been shedding more pounds. It's just frustrating to watch them eat more junk and not work out at all, and remain slim, where as I would balloon :|

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (0, Offtopic)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 years ago | (#27584971)

Try healthier food instead of more healthy food.... :-)

But I know what you're talking about :-)

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584747)

Being vegetarian doesn't automatically make you thinner. If they still consume a lot of food (say like...a *LOT* of wheat), they'll still turn fat.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

plague3106 (71849) | about 5 years ago | (#27584807)

Yes, 1% of the population has a medtial condition that causes them to be overweight. For everyone else though, yes, it is that they are eating too much. And just because you're not eating too much meat doen't mean you can't get fat. How the hell you equate "vegetarian" with "healthy" is beyond me. Sit there eating peanut butter, potato chips and soda all day and you'll be fat, no meat required.

You're thin because you're eating smaller quantities than your fat friends. End of story. It's all about calories in vs. calories out.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 years ago | (#27585019)

Yes, 1% of the population has a medtial condition that causes them to be overweight.

[citation needed]

Oh wait.... you could perhaps just read the SUMMARY to find out that it may be 1% with that medical condition PLUS X PERCENT WITH A MICROBIOLOGICAL CONDITION.

That was the research result that whole news was about!

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | about 5 years ago | (#27585181)

But that would require accepting the possibility of new scientific discoveries! That frightens and confuses me! Besides, I thought this kind of stuff was all caused by demons.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27585067)

1% of the population has a medtial condition that causes them to be overweight.

I wish I had that condition. The obesity is a downside, but the fabulous good luck it brings is more than enough compensation. Just look at concentration and refugee camps or famines in Africa: nobody with this disease is ever caught up in the suffering.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

somersault (912633) | about 5 years ago | (#27585327)

Calories out being very important too - you could be eating peanut butter, potato chips and soda all day and be getting thinner if you're doing a lot of manual labour or exercise. Michael Phelps was taking in something like 12000 calories a day (about 5 times more than they say the average guy should eat per day) while training for the olympics, though that is obviously an extreme example.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (3, Informative)

digitalunity (19107) | about 5 years ago | (#27585201)

This would explain what was previously thought to be genetic obesity. I'm obese, as are most of my mothers family. My father is skinny and eats terrible food.

I eat very healthy and I exercise about 20-30 minutes a day(bike riding or swimming) and yet I still weigh 172 @ 17% body fat. Obviously for some people eating healthy and exercising isn't enough.

Whether its genetics or microbes, I don't really care. It does bother me though that people in general blame obese people for their weight. Maybe in a lot of cases that negative view is warranted, but probably for a lot of other cases like me, it isn't laziness.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 years ago | (#27585233)

It is easy for people with a high metabolism to not be an obesity apologist. Because they are not suffering from the problem. I am a tad overweight myself and I always have to think about what I am eating all the time, for everything I eat. I know people who just have a high metabolism and are very thin and eats 3 to 4 times the calories I do with the same level of exercise. While If I break the rules just a little bit the pounds come right back.

I see it much like the people who have been born in a Rich Family and got the family inheritance (Burning it away until he dies) looking down at the Middle Class (College Educated) guy who is working hard for his good standard of life.

Life isn't fair and I never expect it to be. But saying You Fat because you are week willed or lazy is really poor form. Yes some people are fat because of that, others just because it is that much more of a struggle to keep it there from rising.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

jandersen (462034) | about 5 years ago | (#27584623)

... why is it worded in such a way...

Mostly because it wasn't thought through, I suspect. Recent research seems to indicate that gut bacteria have a large influence on things like immune system, ability to process nutrients and similar, so it seems that having a certain kind bacteria can make it difficult to lose rsp. gain weight. And of course, what we eat will influence what bacteria get established in our gut too. It may be a valid corollary from these observations, that if one were to completely change one's diet from the things that favour "obese bacteria" to the things that favour "lean bacteria" and keep it up long enough, one would end up losing weight. Certainly something to think about.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

plague3106 (71849) | about 5 years ago | (#27584837)

Well if changing your diet will cause you to lose weight and change the type of bacteria, I'd say your diet, not the bacteria, are the deciding factor.

It's really amazing... everyone (that doesn't suffer some medical condition, which is about 1% of people) that cleans up their diet and exercises loses weight. Amazing.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#27584741)

Cause and effect, effect and cause... too often we can't tell which is which. Not to mention that one sample (or a handful) does not constitute anything a serious researcher would take, well, serious.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (2, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 5 years ago | (#27584755)

Absolutely! I for one reject this studies' thinly veiled attack on the hegemony of genetic determinism!

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#27584839)

Strictly speaking, all this development suggests is that you aren't determined merely by your own genome; but by a whole lot of other genomes as well.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584859)

Usually science starts with a correlation and forms conclusions based on testing and evidence. Since more evidence is piling up to suggest that gut flora influences weight and immunity, we are starting to look more into gut flora as a cause for disease.

There certainly isn't going to be a magic bullet, but a lot of what we are seeing already makes sense. For example, not even 10 years ago we learned that the majority of stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter Pylori, that most cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus, and that many cases of heart disease are directly linked to dental hygiene.

I have no problem believing we'll find in the next decade that there is bacteria out there that disrupts or inhibits proper insulin signaling causing insulin resistance and weight gain. I have no problem believing that there are bacteria which thrive in the lack of certain nutritional dietary components (e.g. many vitamins available in fruit, which most Americans are chronically lacking in their diets), take in carbohydrates (like fructose which many Americans get in very raw form) and change them in ways that make it harder for the body to process or excrete.

I have no idea if any of those things will turn out to be the case though. That's where we will have to turn to science, to answer these questions. Just because you don't want to believe any of those things doesn't make any more or less true, same as if I believe or disbelieve them. It's what we can test, predict and prove that matters.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | about 5 years ago | (#27584929)

Because the actual research was more complicated than that, and did actually go some of the way to rule out that causation? I don't remember the details, but they did more than just the correlation.

But then, why actually check the facts and read the actual research (or read more about it then the one line in the resume), when you can just assume the you are smarter than the researchers and yell "CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION"?

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584985)

Does this even pass the sniff test? I take antibiotics. I wipe out an entire ecosystem. I become obese or skinny randomly depending upon which new ecosystem appears.

My personal experience does not reflect that. I do not know of anyone else who has had shifts in weight after antibiotics, either.

I am thinking that it is more likely that the diet we have is causing us to be obese or skinny. The symbiotic bacteria that appears is probably also resulting from the diet we have.

The axiom "correlation is not causation" still holds, and I may be wrong. The rest is an excercise to the reader.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (4, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | about 5 years ago | (#27585063)

why is it worded in such a way as to imply the different bacteria is the reason that one is obese and the other isn't, instead of the type of bacteria changed because being obese

IIRC there have been animal studies (mice I think) where changing the intestinal bacteria lead to changes in obesity. I don't have an article cite, but I read about it in Science News about a year ago. So it's not simply a correlation that supports this theory.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

myxiplx (906307) | about 5 years ago | (#27585119)

Perhaps because they've done the studies that show calorie intake is actually wildly different according to the bacteria present, regardless of the food eaten. Seriously, go read the articles attached to the original slashdot story, they're fascinating reading.

I for one am watching this with interest since it's the first research I've seen that adequately explains why somebody like myself can eat without putting weight on, while other have to carefully monitor their intake.

I eat absolute garbage, in quantity, and do little exercise, yet haven't put on more than a stone in the last 15 years. For the best part of a year I bought lunch from the chip shop 5 days a week, and ate that on top of regular snacks (2-3 bags of crisps, chocolate bars & fizzy drinks), plus a full breakfast and dinner every day, without putting on any weight at all. I eat more than double the amount of food my boss consumes, yet he's a good 3-4 stone heavier than me, goes to the gym every morning, and still struggles to keep weight off.

Re:Obesity & Bacteria (1)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#27585279)

why is it worded in such a way as to imply the different bacteria is the reason that one is obese and the other isn't, instead of the type of bacteria changed because being obese

Probably from centuries of parasite research, despite the official tone of the article being against those beliefs. "everyone knows" that given one twin with a tapeworm, and another twin without a tapeworm, the tapeworm twin is thinner because the tapeworm turns food into more tapeworm, that would otherwise turn into human fat or energy for exercise or whatever. No great stretch to apply those observations to bacteria.

Since some very high percentage by weight of fecal matter (uh, for the uneducated, that would be sh*t) is bacteria, it would stand to reason that if victim one outputs a pound of bacteria per day, and victim two outputs two pounds of bacteria per day, after eating roughly the same stuff at taco bell, victim two's body obviously got to keep less nutrition. More or less.

A far more interesting idea is bacteria actually generate some vitamins and nutrients for our bodies... I wonder if fat people have bacteria that are somewhat more effective than skinny people, thus their host has more nutritional "stuff" or at least fewer constraints, thus their host gets fat due to dramatically better vitamin levels or whatever. Then supercharge the generally better vitamin levels with just plain old more vitamins from overeating, and the waistline explodes.

Also although the article focuses on bacteria, yeasts are quite effective at turning sugar into CO2 (making the lungs work harder) and alcohol and fusel oils (making the liver work harder). So, I wonder if skinny people have too much yeast in their bodies vs too little bacteria... Or, maybe fat people eat too much sugar/carbs thus the yeast poisons them from within, making it harder to lose weight.

This kind of thinking leads to all kinds of daydreams about "fat loss pills" since we already have plenty of pills to manipulate bacteria and yeasts. Essentially, instead of adjusting the input waveform, try adjusting the gain level. The, uh, output waveform delivered to the toilet might be negatively impacted by such weird digestive modifications.

Of course (4, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | about 5 years ago | (#27584469)

Both, of course. Why can't we be an eco system that is also a self-contained individual? Arguably, we could say the same thing about Earth itself (guess who's cancer?)

Re:Of course (5, Funny)

Sique (173459) | about 5 years ago | (#27584675)

As in the old jokes, where two planets meet:

- How's going?
- Bad... I got Mankind.
- Had it also. Not a big problem though, it goes away.

Re:Of course (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 years ago | (#27584775)

Cancer... a part of a body gone nuts, a part that once provided a valuable service, then turned berserk, harming the body and only serving itself anymore and worst of all, a self-serving body that just don't know when to quit...

I'd say the content industry.

Re:Of course (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 5 years ago | (#27584865)

It's more than the content industry... a film series, from that very same content industry, started as a pretty insightful commentary on Earth's cancer: Koyaanisqatsi [imdb.com] , the second movie did some nice contrast on Northern vs Southern hemisphere, and as far as I can tell, the third in the trilogy just went off the rails down the creator's own navel.

Re:Of course (1)

radtea (464814) | about 5 years ago | (#27584951)

Yeah, but attempting to force people to make an arbitrary and meaningless choice about what humans "REALLY" are is the best way to stimulate page views and comments from stupid people, while driving smart people off to wherever it is that smart people go (if you know, please tell me!)

In every case that we know of there is more than one way to usefully carve up the universe into conceptual chunks. Stupid people think that one of these must be the One True Way, which is, well, stupid. The universe is what it is, but how we carve it up is as much about what we are as about what it is.

Unless one stupidly makes the mistake of reifying our categories there is no reason to believe that a single set of categories is implied by the universe being one (non-categorical) way.

Re:Of course (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 5 years ago | (#27585335)

Arguably, we could say the same thing about Earth itself (guess who's cancer?)


Those things are plain old evil.

Good bacteria! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584479)

So long as this isn't used as a marketing angle, to promote pointless fermented milk drinks,
I don't care.

Oh wait.

Re:Good bacteria! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27585015)

But the people in the ads look so happy!

both? (1)

Turiko (1259966) | about 5 years ago | (#27584481)

aren't we both? We have bacteria living in about every part of us, and do'nt forget the blood cells and all. And we sure as hell are a being made of flesh too...

Not just "bacteria" (4, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | about 5 years ago | (#27584517)

Perhaps these are the midicloriens we have been looking for. Try to speak to them with your mind and see if you can make things move... (it only works for me in the bathroom when my concentration is at its highest and the accoustics are at their best)

Also, this brings another question to mind as well. Have our snooty English teachers been correct in using "we" in weird places? "How are we feeling today? Did we do our homework?" The ramifications are... spooky.

Finally, let's tell ALL the germaphobes out there! This hand-washing nut-cases are annoying! We can either break them of their phobias or finally kill them. Either way, their irrational fears will bug me no further. ("Clean" has it's place, but primarily when it has to do with food and equipment!)

Re:Not just "bacteria" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584643)

Personally I have no problem with being mostly bacteria however the midicloriens creep me out. Suddenly suicide is looking like a very good option in comparison to spreading these dreaded midicloriens.

However it does give me an idea for the next attempt at a star wars movie. The premise is simple; the main jedi is a germaphobe who is completely freaked out about the midicloriens and refuses to talk to them!

Re:Not just "bacteria" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27585021)

Finally, let's tell ALL the germaphobes out there! This hand-washing nut-cases are annoying! We can either break them of their phobias or finally kill them. Either way, their irrational fears will bug me no further. ("Clean" has it's place, but primarily when it has to do with food and equipment!)

No, handwashing germaphobes are really just being patriotic. They don't want the bacteria born and raised as citizens of their body to face unfair foreign competition, so they want to put up border fences ("Streptococci go home!"). Personally, I consider myself more of a melting pot.

Re:Not just "bacteria" (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 5 years ago | (#27585125)

I rinsed with chloride to raise my midicloriens count and now I can't hear anything :/

Need more bleach... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584553)

...in the gene pool

Body is the Vessel for the Soul (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584557)

For body health: 1. oxygenation (such as oxysilver [healthyworldstore.com] ), 2. alkalinity (such as drinking lemon juice in water), 3. love (such as frequency 528 [love528.com] ).

Re:Body is the Vessel for the Soul (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#27584853)

"2. alkalinity (such as drinking lemon juice in water)"

pH fail. (or "pHail" as the cool kids are saying these days)

Re:Body is the Vessel for the Soul (4, Funny)

seven of five (578993) | about 5 years ago | (#27584905)

2. alkalinity (such as drinking lemon juice in water)

I see sleeping through fourth-grade science's done wonders for you...

Re:Body is the Vessel for the Soul (1)

Eevee (535658) | about 5 years ago | (#27585223)

While I have to admit that the grandparent comment by the AC is pretty incoherent, the intent could have been "maintaining the correct pH balance by staying slightly more alkaline than the average person who takes in too many acidic foods and drinks, such as lemon juice in water." Still wrong, but at a higher grade level.

Re:Body is the Vessel for the Soul (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 5 years ago | (#27585103)

Just in case:
Drinking those kind of silver products is not a good idea. If you think about it, stop.

Simple (1)

joquius (1200905) | about 5 years ago | (#27584575)

I would have to say a contained eco-system going down to the cellular level. I think either you consider everything as an eco-system, or everything as an organism because of the similarities on each level, whether it be a city, a human or a cell.

Its a stupid distinction (5, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | about 5 years ago | (#27584577)

While the study of our relationship with the bacteria and other microbes that live inside us is interesting and valid its kinda dumb to talk about ourselves as ecosystems. We are another life form, that has a symbiotic relationship with those microbes in a larger ecosystem.

We don't need words like symbiotic if we are going to think of ourselves as an ecosystem. Also just about any animal or plant made of more than a few cells is going to be an ecosystem under this implied definition. I am not sure how exactly we want to define ecosystem but something a little more complex than "any thing which something lives inside" seems appropriate.

Re:Its a stupid distinction (1)

Tei (520358) | about 5 years ago | (#27585017)

Maybe I can help you.

Suppose we meet some aliens. Is not a invidiual that meet another invidual. is his ecosystem that will meet our ecosystem. Think australia + the european animals.

So to me, thinking as ourselves as ecosystems could be usefull.

Applies to brain cells as well? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584593)

This must be why I hear those voices in my head.

"Eat that donut"
"Don't eat it!"
"Eat it!"
"I am bored"
"Natalie Portman"

I am joking.. or am I?

Re:Applies to brain cells as well? (3, Funny)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 years ago | (#27585073)

9 out of ten voices in my head tel me that I'm not insane.

The 10th just keeps on humming the Tetris-tune...

Re:Applies to brain cells as well? (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 5 years ago | (#27585221)

In that order?

All I can hear is:

"Natalie portman"
"Eat it!"
"Eat that donut!"

Uhm.. or wait..

Made of cake (2, Funny)

TheMonkeyhouse (1271112) | about 5 years ago | (#27584595)

did you see that this is all based around an obesity study? this has to be the BEST reason-why-i'm-fat yet!

"it's not me, it's the entire living eco-system of which i am comprised. and my DNA. and it's glandular. and i'm big boned."

i think most of the people in the study were made of cake.

My name is Legion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584609)

for we are many

So: too much cleaning is bad (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 5 years ago | (#27584619)

because it will kill some of these friendly bacteria.

Just the excuse that I have been looking for to avoid having to hoover the carpets!

Re:So: too much cleaning is bad (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 5 years ago | (#27585271)

"We are all part of the same organism, we live in synergy, I don't want to make life harsh for them, my food and body is theirs, so on so on.."

Microbiologists... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584645)

Let me remind everyone that microbiologists are almost a different species (if we were organisms). I suppose, in this case, they could also be likened to a different planet.

Point of view (1)

jandersen (462034) | about 5 years ago | (#27584663)

We don't have to reject one viewpoint in favour of the other - it is equally valid to consider a human, to take some random examples, a torus, a blob of slimy water designed to carry DNA around, or a highly organised colony of specialised eukariotes.

One word: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584665)


Good Germs Bad Germs (4, Informative)

Kieckerjan (38971) | about 5 years ago | (#27584673)

I just read Good Germs Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs, a fascinating, accessible and up-to-date account of roughly the same subject matter. Will change your view on bacteria forever.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Germs-Bad-Survival-Bacterial/dp/0809050633 [amazon.com]

Both. (1)

jw3 (99683) | about 5 years ago | (#27584683)

Human being are individuals. They have a genome (well, actually, two, 'cause of the mitochondria), they evolved, they form a population of interbreeding animals.

That said, they provide an ecosystem to a large number of microbial species, some of which are symbionts, some are parasites, some can be both. In general, we cannot live without our symbionts, and our symbionts are depending on us.

All that isn't news. This perspective on a human individual has been here for decades. What is new is that with 2nd generation sequencing [byu.edu] it is now possible to thoroughly investigate the microbial composition of our symbionts parasites. This is an exciting new technology which allows such projects as the 1000 genomes project [1000genomes.org] , Neanderthal genome sequencing [sciencedaily.com] , metagenomics [umd.edu] and much, much more.

Just one more remark: given a population of genetically identical bacteria, it is sometimes wrong to call each bacterial cell an "individual". These cells can collaborate, exchange information, shape their environment and act more like an organism than a single invdividual. There are even some bacteria [umn.edu] that can actually get together, differentiate and form a macroscopic, multicellular structure [ascenion.de] . So saying that we are colonised by 100 trillion of individuals is an exaggeration.

That said, we too can view ourselves as a colony of (mostly: think sperm / eggs and t-cells) genetically identical cells that communicate, collaborate and shape their environment, and also are (mostly, think: blood cells) physically linked together. And each our cell can be viewed as a symbiont between two organisms, each with its own genome and even its own genetic code (yep, the genetic code of the mitochondria differs from that used in the nucleus in our cells).

j. (IAAB)

All our base are belong to them? (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 5 years ago | (#27584689)

Do you think we can pass responsibilities to our occupants?

Since bacteria outnumber us ten to one, do you think they see us as oppressors, since our bodies don't seem to be a functioning democracy?

Are the bacteria responsible for our preemptive strikes on the cookie jars and other resources found in the kitchen?

"Boss, I can't come to work, my bacteria are on strike".

"Don't touch me, I'm a protected ecosystem!"

Yogurt (2, Interesting)

mc1138 (718275) | about 5 years ago | (#27584715)

My dad's long been preaching to me about the benefits of eating yogurt to add back in good bacteria, especially after being on an antibiotic regimen.

radiation (2, Informative)

GregNorc (801858) | about 5 years ago | (#27584723)

Makes sense. I read somewhere that one of the reasons medium/high doses of radiation kill you is all the helpful bacteria in your digestive system are killed, leaving you unable to process nutrients.

Viruses, too (5, Interesting)

forrie (695122) | about 5 years ago | (#27584767)

A recent program on NatGeo (Explorer?) hypothesizes that viruses are also a key part of human evolution.

The "junk DNA" that we all have is likely the result of viruses.

They've also discovered that viruses in the wild actually quite easily jump from species to species, too.

In one of the experiments, they found a large amount of a certain virus in the womb of a sheep during pregnancy. When inoculated against the virus, the pregnancy would not complete.

Very interesting theory.

Thanks, Al! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584769)

Sometimes I really want to be alone
But that's one state I'm never in
Because I know that I've got millions upon millions
Of tiny, one-celled organisms living on my skin

(Germs) I rub and scrub until my flesh is raw and bleeding
(Germs) But they just come right back again
(Germs) I can't even see 'em, but I know they're up to something
Hey, don't touch that - you don't know where it's been...

Germs - Weird Al

May the force be with you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584789)

I, for one, bow to our Midi-chlorian over/under/inner-lords!

Re:May the force be with you! (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 5 years ago | (#27584841)

Guess you have a low count, since you didn't foresee how lame and overused your joke was.

Stool transplant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584797)

http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/features_julieshealthclub/2008/10/the-ultimate-pr.html [chicagotribune.com]

        "On a crisp fall day, she sat in the exam room with an opaque tube running through her nose, down her throat and into her stomach."

        "We just need that little brown bag," said Dr. Timothy Rubin, a gastroenterologist. He meant the stool sample from Jolliffe's husband, which was being processed in the lab. It was mixed with water and filtered to take out the organic matter, leaving a dark brown liquid that contained billions of bacteria.

        When the little bag arrived with the sample inside, Rubin used a large syringe to inject the liquid through the tube and into Jolliffe's stomach. It was over in less than a minute.

        "All I felt was cold," she said.

I view myself (3, Funny)

Centurix (249778) | about 5 years ago | (#27584815)

As a series of tubes.

Re:I view myself (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27585217)

Teacher always said we're just donut shaped bags of water...

Re:I view myself (1)

sleepy_sanchez (1301981) | about 5 years ago | (#27585393)

Actually, "We are made out of tubes" was one of the motivations mentioned in my friend's thesis presentation on fruit fly research. And it wasn't meant as a joke.

10 to 1, really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584957)

If bacterial cells outnumber human cells 10 to 1, how come that I look like a human and not a bacteria?

Or perhaps you did not think of that, mister Researcher, or if I presume, Dr. Moriarty?

Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27584965)

If you like shower about once every 1-2 days you're a organism. Playing PS3 and showering once a week, you're a living ecosystems.

Or? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 5 years ago | (#27585011)

Since when is there a difference? :)

It's as stupid as asking if the whole planet is an organism or a living ecosystem? They are both too.
Because fractality is a basic rule of nature.

I am envious at editors and reporters. Their job is so easy. Take something homogenous. Use two different words for it. Or two different views on it. And form a false dichotomy out of it.
And you got your controversy. Stir up some dust with it. And your job is done.

A new way to assess superiority. (1)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#27585077)

I am obviously a superior human, because I have bacteria type r2-d2. All other humans with that bacteria type should join me, and then we can enslave those inferior humans who only have the thx-1138 bacteria type.

A whole new kind of health quackery. (1)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#27585117)

Which one of us will be first to make the web site to sell shakes made of ground up weeds and household plants that claim to balance the bacteria in your blood? I'm sure that shark cartiledge will be useful for this, along with rhino horn powder.

ALIENS! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27585183)

Have invaded!

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