Thursday, March 20
7 - 8 p.m.
Microbes and Your Gut
Speaker: David Shifrin, PhD, Research fellow, Tyska Laboratory, Dept. of Cell & Developmental Biology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
“With a little help from my (100 trillion) friends...”
Are you really “a” human? Believe it or not, some scientists don’t think we should be considered “individuals” but actually “supra-organisms.” It seems like a crazy idea at first, but when we consider the fact that our intestines contain 100 trillion microbes from 500 or more different species…maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all.
The intestine is home to the vast majority of bacteria in the human body, and without these tiny residents living comfortably in a pretty rough neighborhood, the human part of us would struggle to get through the day. Gut bacteria help us break down nutrients and provide energy. They also push our intestinal cells to develop normally, promote a healthy immune system, and even defend us against some of their more sinister relatives like pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella. In turn, we give them a warm, dark, quiet – or, maybe not so quiet – place to live with plenty to eat. It’s a system where everyone wins. When the population of bacteria residing in our guts is altered, problems show up all over the place. Obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and immune problems have all been linked to shifts away from a normal gut bacterial population. Scientists are working hard to figure out if it’s human physiology or genetics that changes the bacterial population or the other way around, but what is clear is that keeping the system in balance is critical for helping us – all 100,000,000,000,001 of us – stay happy and healthy.
David Shifrin received his PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Vanderbilt University. His research looked at how cells lining the small intestine respond to gut bacteria, and how a pathogenic strain of E. coli alters the surface of those same cells during infection.