A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Did you know that you’re currently harboring a microbial ecosystem in, on, and under your skin? That’s right. In a massive study over the course of five years, scientists did a sort of population analysis of healthy humans to find out which germs, bacteria, and other little buggies call our bodies home.
Many of them are good little microbes. They put on their hats and coats in the mornings, kiss the wife, the kids, and the pathogen-dog, and trudge off to work in the small intestines or the nose or the stomach, spending each day keeping us healthy and safe from the baddies. But those baddies exist, too. Some of them are known for causing infections and making us sick or, in worst cases, killing us. But when they’re in the right combination with the nice guys in our bodies, they appear to be rather harmless. Or, at least, they’ve been restrained.
Now scientists want to figure out why certain people are susceptible to damage from those harmful bugs while others can coexist and remain healthy. They plan to study in much further depth the bacteria which is found in every single part of our bodies, which can hopefully lead them to new ways of preventing illness and infection. I may be a science dope and a germaphobe, but I think that’s just aces.
The part that I found most interesting was that not everyone’s microbial Sim City is the same. Just like in people cities, the specific population may differ, but everyone works together to accomplish more or less the same things. You know—raising families, sustaining industry, driving, building bridges, preventing Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We’re not so different.
The sheer volume of microbes we carry is a bit daunting. There are, like, a bazillion of them in each of us, amounting to roughly 1%-3% of our body mass. According to The Huffington Post, that means a 200-lb man could have six pounds of bacteria milling about. Er.
Did you just tell me I’m carrying around extra pounds in microbial organisms? As in, I can now mentally subtract 3% of my body weight when I look at the scale? If I, hypothetically, did do a little microbe-purging, could I, say, evict them from my midsection and upper arms specifically? Maybe just, like, a pound’s worth. If our microbial ecosystems are just like cities, there have to be some useless hangers-on taking up space, just living off their friends and family, drinking too much and getting into car accidents. Right? Just a thought! Don’t tell me you didn’t have it, too. I’m not going to do it. I wouldn’t even know how, aside from playing really loud music and hanging out in smoking lounges at airports. And maybe doubling up on the antibacterial hand stuff.
Oh, shoot. They probably want me to lay off the Purell, don’t they? I hadn’t thought of that until now. Well. Suddenly who has the upper hand? I think we can work out a deal. If they’re here to stay, taking up all that weight, I’d at least like a guarantee that things will work a little better around here. Less food poisoning! No more sinus infections! Set metabolism to hyperspeed! And I simply will not abide by any further symptoms of my lactose intolerance.
Is it bad that within a few minutes of mulling this over, I’ve already turned my microbes into minions and subjects to be manipulated to do my bidding? I feel like that ought to be normal.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
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