Microbes are us, according to the results of a recently published large-scale study into the microflora of the human body. Scientists sampled up to 18 different body regions in almost 250 people. We already knew that microbes living inside us outnumber our own body cells by a factor of ten. Now we have hard evidence that these colonies of miniscule lodgers are about as different from the next person as we are ourselves, and remarkably stable. Many of the bacteria help make and break down nutrients. Scientists believe that different bugs may perform the same jobs in different people. Disease-causing microbes were rare, but everyone tested carried opportunistic pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus (pictured) that can cause disease in individuals with weakened immunity. Our own genome holds many clues about our health and disease, but our microflora may be responsible for more than we yet realise.
Written by Brona McVittie
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.