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Follow Your Gut

The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes

By Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler
10-minute read
Audio available
Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes by Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler

Follow Your Gut (2015) puts the world of microbes under the microscope, showing just how much influence the little things – in this case, bacteria – have on our life. The fact is, we’re crawling with bacteria, both inside and out, and if we weren’t, life wouldn’t be so great. Bacteria serve many important functions, like keeping us happy and healthy. It’s time to learn how to treat them well!

  • Health-conscious people and germaphobes
  • Students of biology and medicine
  • Pregnant women

Rob Knight is a professor at UC San Diego’s Department of Pediatrics and Department of Computer Science. He is also a senior editor at the ISME Journal and co-founder of the American Gut Project.

Brendan Buhler is an award-winning science writer who has been featured in Sierra magazine, the Los Angeles Times and California magazine. His story on biologist Rob Knight was selected for the 2012 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

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Follow Your Gut

The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes

By Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes by Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler
Synopsis

Follow Your Gut (2015) puts the world of microbes under the microscope, showing just how much influence the little things – in this case, bacteria – have on our life. The fact is, we’re crawling with bacteria, both inside and out, and if we weren’t, life wouldn’t be so great. Bacteria serve many important functions, like keeping us happy and healthy. It’s time to learn how to treat them well!

Key idea 1 of 6

There are more microbial cells than human cells in your body and they’re essential to your health.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What makes me human?” If you think it’s the cells that compose your body, you might want to reconsider.

While your body does contain around 10 trillion human cells, it also contains 100 trillion microbial cells.

These microbes are single-cell organisms, many of which are bacteria, and together they make up what is known as the human microbiota. The genes of all these microbes are called the human microbiome.

It would be accurate to think of yourself as the host of an ecosystem that is made up of extremely diverse, unique microbial communities. All of us share about 99.99 percent of the same DNA, but when it comes to the microbes living in our guts, however, we share only about 10 percent.

In fact, the microbes in and around your body are so uniquely yours that scientists could use them to identify your computer mouse with approximately 90-percent accuracy.

On average, about 85 percent of the microbes on your hand are different to anyone else’s, giving you what is known as a “microbial fingerprint.

Nor are these microbes only on your hands; they’re all over your body’s skin as well as in your gut. But this shouldn’t worry you. These microbes are hard at work and responsible for a wide range of essential tasks.

The majority of microbes dwell in your intestines, where they do extremely important work. In addition to processing your dietary fiber, they determine two important things: how many calories you extract from your food and how your medication affects you.

Your skin’s microbes also do important work, like determining how attractive you are to mosquitoes. These skin microbes feed on our body’s secretions, which are responsible for our sweaty odors. Depending on your own specific microbial make-up, this scent might be more or less attractive to mosquitoes.

So we’re covered in microbes. But this wasn’t always the case.

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