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Missing Microbes

How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

By Martin Blaser
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Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser

Missing Microbes (2014) explores the strange and microscopic world inside your guts. It sheds light on the crucial role played by microbes – tiny creatures that keep your body happy and healthy – and explains the dangers of overusing antibiotics.

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Missing microbes may be behind the rise of chronic diseases like asthma, allergies and diabetes.

Most people know that the proliferation of obesity, diabetes, asthma and cancer is a major concern. And the incidence of such ailments will only increase. But how can this be? What about the revolutionary wonders of modern medicine?

The answer lies in the tiny organisms that call your body home.

Indeed, this community of microorganisms is, by and large, what keeps you in good health. Known as the microbiome, it helps fight diseases, and so is extremely important for your immune system.

But where do these microorganisms come from?

When exiting the birth canal, newborns get covered with diverse microbes. These organisms then colonize the infant’s skin and gut, and establish the microbiome that will remain with him or her for life.

Caesarian sections, along with the overuse of antibiotics and sanitizers, can alter your microbiome, resulting in a weaker immune system or fostering antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Indeed, any change in your microbiome – especially the loss of one of the many bacterial species that compose it – can have serious consequences.

The more diverse your microbiome, the better it can protect itself from unwanted intruders. If even one key species is removed from the microbial ecosystem, the whole ecosystem may suffer or even collapse.

To get an idea of how this works, let’s consider a much larger ecosystem – Yellowstone National Park.

About 70 years ago, wolves were removed from the park. As a result, the elk population exploded.

The elk then ate all the willows on the riverbanks, which meant fewer beavers and songbirds, who depended on the willows to build nests and dams. Consequently, riverbanks eroded.

With the wolves gone, there were fewer elk carcasses. This caused a drop in the populations of animals that depend on carrion, such as ravens, eagles, magpies and bears. Moreover, bison, which share a diet with elk, were crowded out.

All this just because one species was removed from the ecosystem. The same could happen in your gut!

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