If at times you wonder who you really are, that question has recently become even harder to answer. Several studies, including one lead by professor Carolyn Bohach of the University of Indiana have come to the conclusion that only 10% of the cells in our body actually contain our own DNA. The other 90% is made up of bacteria, most of them living in the digestive tract and the lungs. Bacteria are very good at breaking down organic material; some strains are now used to break down oil spills. That ability also makes them essential to our digestive processes and, by extension, tor proper functioning of the immune system. Yes, these bacteria are GOOD bacteria!
They make their first inroads into our body while on the way out of the womb and during nursing; from there on, we share our bodies with them in a cozy symbiosis.
Some common digestive disorders may be caused by disruption of these bacterial colonies. The studies also point to a probable connection to the disproportionate incidence of immune system disorders among people born by cesarean, because they host only the strains acquired through nursing. Research is now underway for ways to supplement the population postnatally.
Although the bacteria vastly outnumber our own cells, they only comprise a tiny part of our body mass, because bacteria are much smaller than human cells. If you could put all the bacteria in your body in a gallon jug, they would fill it to just about the halfway mark.
Even smaller than bacteria are viruses and where we couldn’t do without bacteria, we’d probably be better off without viruses, who are only good at disrupting things. The first case of a strain called the zika virus, originally from the equatorial regions of Africa and Asia, was confirmed in Brazil in May of 2015, perhaps brought over during the World Soccer championships.
By now, it has spread by plane, train and automobile throughout South and Central America and one case was confirmed in the UK just the other day.
Zika viral disease is a mild form of dengue fever and is borne by the same mosquito, Aegis aegypti. The symptoms are flu-like: fever, joint pain, sometimes a rash or red-eye, and may last for about a week. Far more seriously, though, it also appears to cause certain birth defects. The Center for Disease Control has issued a travel warning for pregnant women for South and Central America. Visit www.cdc.com/zika for details.
Attempts are now underway to mitigate the spread of zika and other diseases borne by Aegis aegypti by introducing mosquitos genetically engineered to be sterile. The British/American company Oxitec is spearheading the endeavor.
(Broadcast 3:30 min)