Back in 2016 Dr Jack Gilbert wants to make our hospitals dirty.
His idea runs counter to hundreds of years of scientific practice. Since a surgeon named Joseph Lister became the first to use antiseptic techniques in 1867 and save thousands of lives, modern medicine has worked tirelessly to create sterile medical environments free of micro-organisms.
It all changed when Dr. Gilbert, associate director of the Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology at Argonne National Laboratory, began studying dolphins in 2014. He noticed that the animals were much healthier the “dirtier” the aquarium water was.
“We saw the benefit in increasing the microbial diversity of the home,” explained Gilbert. According to Dr. Gilbert, the lack of a rich microbial ecosystem, especially in our hospitals, might be causing more harm than good, leading to drug resistant strains of powerful superbugs and infection-causing viruses.
Science writer Ed Yong agrees with Dr. Gilbert, featuring him in his book, “I Contain Multitudes,” which tries to change our minds about bacteria. Yong points outs that “there are more bacteria in your gut than there are stars in our galaxy,” and of these fewer than 100 species of bacteria compromise our health. The rest, which coexist in and among us, aren’t just harmless they protect us and make us who we are.
Every square inch of space contains billions of microbes even seemingly desolate landscapes of Arctic ice or Saharan sand. Before humans, microbes were the only stuff of life on Earth.
Microbes, a microorganism almost always invisible to the naked eye, have spent 90 percent more time here than we have, invisibly evolving for millions of years. Instead of evolving alongside them, we joined forces with them in what scientists call “co-development.” We cannot live without the microbes we host.
Microbes not only impact the shape of many of our organs, they replace dying and damaged cells and help our bodies absorb and store nutrients and fat. Plants, animals and humans would die without these lifelong microbial hitchhikers.
Some animals begin developing with microbes from inception. Humans first make contact with theirs in the birth canal. From that moment forward, microbes help bolster our immune systems, helping our bodies learn to live with viral diseases that enter our bloodstream.