You Should Know This Word: Holobiont

You Should Know This Word: Holobiont

The Microbiome

By now, you are almost certainly familiar with the term microbiome. Microbiome refers to a specific place inhabited by bacteria or other microorganisms. More commonly today it refers to those microorganisms inhabiting our intestinal tract.

Current estimates are that the human body is comprised of about 37 trillion cells (using different ways to estimate cells results in very different estimates – some cells are much larger than others). Dr. Emily Deans, instructor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, calls the microbiome “-the 37-100 trillion little beasties in our guts- “. (That is a very big range. But you’ve undoubtedly experienced the problem of counting in the trillions. Once one has counted up to 15 trillion or so, it is easy to become distracted and lose one’s place. And it’s hard to get those microbes to stay still long enough to get a good count). Given Dr. Dean’s range, there are as many, or even far more, beasties dwelling in our guts than human cells in all of our body. Combined, they weigh from one to three pounds. At three pounds, they weigh almost as much as our brain does. Link to that research here.

A 2010 study of the microbiome of individuals in Spain and Denmark indicated that typically they had 1,000-1,150 species of bacteria in their intestines, of which about 160 were common, that is, most people had those species. (Link to the research here). From there, it gets complicated. Some of those bacteria are there for our good. Some likely for our harm. Some may just be there for free food and a warm habitat. Maybe some show up for the free beer. Some may be useful, when, say, we are infants but not later. Some may need other species to be present to do their thing. Research proceeds.

Dr. William W. Li practices internal medicine and launched The Angiogenesis Foundation to fund medical research. Dr. Li says: “You are no longer simply human-you’re a holobiont”. That is, we’re an assemblage that includes what we think of ourselves, plus (his count) 39 trillion bacteria. We coexist with these bacteria in a mutually beneficial way. (Source: Life Extension May 2019).

Similarly, successful inventor David Whitlock believes us holobionts are obsessed with cleanliness, and it is hurting us. He’s convinced that human skin was once covered in beneficial bacteria that we now assiduously scrub away. He’s created two companies: AOBiome Therapeutics and Mother Dirt. AOBiome has topical sprays in test to determine if their application will reduce acne, eczema or treat other ailments. Mother Dirt offers topical cosmetics infused with bacteria believed to be beneficial. (Source: Business Week Apr 29, 2019).

What Now?

As to the gut bacteria, there is clear evidence that us holobionts need a healthy mix, including evidence that brain health –our main interest at Big Brain Place -is dependent upon having a vibrant microbiome. There are a vast number of foods that seem to help create that healthy mix. Those include leafy greens, berries, root vegetables and a smorgasbord of fermented things such as kimchee, sour kraut, yogurt and so on. I don’t like any of those fermented things, so I take a probiotic pill and hope for the best.

While you’re waiting on your gut-brain axis to grow stronger, please check out our brain-teasing games and puzzles. If you’re waiting on a new activity blanket for a loved one with dementia, we’re busy getting some made here in the U.S. and will let you know when our new styles are available.

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