MSU researchers contribute to first microbe census

For as much as medical science has advanced, the amount of information researchers are still learning about the human body is astounding. For example, we know that antibiotics fight bad microbes in the body and probiotics can encourage the good ones to work better, but until recently, no one had a complete picture of all of the microbes – good and bad – at work in the human body.

But they do now. Thanks to the National Institute of Health's Human Microbiome Project Consortium, including Michigan State University Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Tom Schmidt, has created the first census for microbes living within healthy adults. Their research found the human body’s collection of microbes includes 100 trillion good bacteria, creating their own unique microbiome. The project estimates between 81 to 99 percent of all microbial species in the human body have been identified.

According to Schmidt, creating the census is a major step toward truly understanding the inner workings of the human body.
“The first step is just to determine who is there,” he says, “what microbes are present consistently in the body at different sites.”

The study also found that nearly all humans carry pathogens, or microbes that cause illnesses. In healthy people, they coexist peacefully. The next step for researchers is to determine why some pathogens turn deadly.

“We’ve just begun to answer the question of who is there,” says Schmidt, “now we have to understand what they’re doing. We have some general ideas, but when it comes to more specifics, we just don’t know.”
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