Your Inner Amazon

By Carl Zimmer | February 3, 2010 12:03 pm

mtsitunes220One of the most mind-blowing things I learned about while writing my book Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life was the incredibly diversity of microbes that call our bodies home. These microbes outnumber our cells by about ten to one, and collectively they have thousands times more genes than found in the human genome. E. coli may be the most familiar of these lodgers, but it is just small player in an inconceivably complex ecosystem on which our health depends.

So I was very excited to interview Rob Knight of the University of Colorado, a biologist who’s been co-authoring a string of stunning papers recently on the thousands of species that live on our skin, in our mouths, in our guts, and elsewhere on or in our bodies. Our conversation is now available on the latest “Meet the Scientist” podcast. We talk about how microbes help each other thrive in our bodies, the way bacteria in our guts release neurotransmitters, how microbes may regulate your weight, and much more. Check it out.


Comments (3)

Links to this Post

  1. A Day Among the Genomes | The Loom | Discover Magazine | April 29, 2010
  1. Brian

    This interview is filled with “Wow!” information! It certainly matches your own description in the intro… “mind-blowing”, and “stunning”. I suppose the “ewwww” factor keeps this off the front pages and even may explain the lack of comments here.

    My personal highlights are…

    * there are literally 100’s of microbe species just on our toungue, in our gut and on our palms. Eighty or so on our foreheads. This number will probably climb as counting techniques improve.
    * One microbe species does not make up more than 10% of the total number in a single environment…. diverse!!
    * Women have 30% more diversity on their palms compared to men, even after accounting for hand-washing frequency.
    * My gut’s microbiome may be 90% different than yours, but other body areas are often very similar.
    * Because of all this diversity, studying single species in a petri dish will never show the full picture.
    * The uniqueness of your gut microbiome can determine how drugs affect you. I can imagine “gut-check” will take on a whole new meaning in the future!

    Good stuff Carl, keep it coming! :)

  2. Steve D

    Microbes outnumber our cells ten to one. Wow! Or, maybe, wait a minute. Most of my body is tissue, sealed off by skin, skull, and membranes from the outside world. The most likely place for microbes to live is in the void spaces in my body: digestive tract, sinuses, lungs, etc. Those spaces make up just a few per cent of my body and they are mostly empty because the space is needed for air and food. If microbes outnumber our cells ten to one, they ought to occupy at least as much volume as our cells (assuming they are a lot smaller than our cells). I want to see the data supporting this claim. I’m, well, skeptical.

    [CZ: Microbes are much smaller than human cells. See this scale.]


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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