We know certain microbes have a huge negative impact on health research but more and more research is showing that microbes can boost fitness too. Today, it’s become more and more apparent just how important they are to every aspect of our bodies and how we live. We do not exist simply as individuals but rather or also as collections of individuals. Specifically, who we are depends upon the massive colonies of microbes surrounding and living inside of us. Study after study has shown how the microbes living in us and on us – the microbiome – can affect our health and even happiness. We can no longer think of ourselves as individual human beings but rather as a collection or colony of our own cellular genes and fifty times as many bacterial genes. Just think of us as “skin wrappers” containing our identity.
Over the past three to four decades, scientists have elaborated this idea to include the concept of the hologenome. The standard view of evolution is that we as individuals are part of a species and mutations in our genetic code allow us to do better or worse when it comes to survival. The classic view is that this is what contributes to the evolution of our species. The hologenome theory of evolution states that our success or failure isn’t dependent solely on our own genetic code, but also on the success or failure of the microbes (and their genetic code) that inhabit us.
Not only do microbes contribute to the evolution of species but they exist to keep the entire planet in equilibrium. They communicate, battle each other and help each other out, sharing their own genetic information to maintain homeostasis.
An award winning microbiologist, Dr. Patricia Siering, professor of biology at Humboldt State University has been studying extreme environmental microorganisms in Lassen Volcanic National Park. By revealing the mysteries of these microorganisms, we can come to a better understanding of the complexity of life on the planet we live on. She writes “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in living things and how they function. One of my earliest memories of excitement about biology happened when I was about 6 years old. I grew up in upstate NY, and every spring we uncovered our pool to find a stinky, slimy film on the inside of the pool cover. My sister had an Edmund Scientific microscope (that she never used) – and I wanted to see what the stinky slime looked like. When I first looked under the scope – it was just like ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ by Dr. Seuss. There was an incredibly complex world living in that slime; it just so happened you couldn’t see it with your naked eye.”