We Contain Multitudes (of Microbes)

Welcome to the yoga of the microbiota. We are not only one but also many. Many organisms and ecosystems, what some are describing as our “second genome” or “inner space,” compose us. We are billions of beings, now featured in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine:

We tend to think that we are exclusively a product of our own cells, upwards of ten trillion of them. But the microbes we harbor add another 100 trillion cells into the mix. The creature we admire in the mirror every morning is thus about 10 percent human by cell count.

Ten percent human cells, chew on that. And here’s a clip about the paradigm shift, from Michael Pollan’s piece in today’s issue of The New York Times

Yet whether any cures emerge from the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has already been learned — for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general — are difficult to overstate.

I find a certain comfort in the affirmation of our unified diversity. All this on the same morning that I heard NPR radio announce that human embryos can be cloned from the DNA of an egg and a skin cell. What a time of wonder with questions about what it means to be human and part in the whole.



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