If my memory serves me well, when I was a 4th grader in primary school, I was part of the group that supported the saying, “the one who travels a lot, knows more” in a debate on “Who knows more? The one who travels a lot or the one who reads a lot?” which I find ironic now that I think about it. Our most significant argument was that Amerigo Vespucci would not have discovered the continent of America if he had not traveled a lot, and the argument of the opposing group was that Alexander Fleming would not have found penicillin if he had not read a lot. No one won the debate that day. However, we all learned the difference between discovering and finding, and that these differing concepts could not actually be compared with each other.
The scientific and technological developments we have witnessed in the last decade have enabled us to make discoveries about the trillions of microorganisms living in our bodies. The reason we call them discoveries is that we have hosted these microorganisms since the first human came to be, meaning the host-guest relationship has always existed. Moreover, we have only recently reached the level of technology required to see these details. In other words, we have just now discovered an organ and its functions although it always existed! At this point, we will need to define two terms that are used interchangeably to better explain what we are talking about. While the microbiota is a microbial community that is commensally located in its habitat and has a functional ecological balance (homeostasis), the microbiome entails the interaction of the genomes, genome products, and environment of microorganisms with this community (in addition to the microbiota). For example, if we talk about the community of microorganisms settled in the intestinal habitat, we can mention the gut microbiota. On the other hand, if we talk about functions, such as the interactions with each other and the host (i.e. with us), the products they synthesize, as well as what the microorganisms are, we mention the microbiome. In this article, we will learn what the microbiome tells us about our newly discovered relationship with the microorganisms living inside us.
First of all, it should be noted that the microbiome elements that live inside us are made up of thousands of different microbial species, and their number is 1.3 times greater compared to the total number of our cells. Our microbiome begins to form when we are in the womb; it diversifies, takes shape, lives, and ages with us right after birth. We know that the gut microbiota, which constitutes the largest part of the human microbiome, is involved in many metabolic activities through forming an interface between us and different factors such as food, pathogenic organisms, and toxins. Numerous studies in the literature revealed that nutrient digestion, vitamin biosynthesis, behavioral response, defense against pathogens, and many more functions depend on the microbiome. Recent studies have revealed that dysbiosis in the composition of humans and the microbiome is associated with many complex diseases. Human- and animal-based studies revealed that dysbiosis may play a role in the emergence, progression, and/or regulation of treatment response in certain diseases.
So, what does our microbiome, with which we are always together from birth to death, and whose status of balance we cannot ignore in case of illness/health, tell us?
The microbiome tells us the age of the world inside us.
In a healthy person, the microbiome forms with age by following a certain trend. Our microbiome ages just like wrinkles form on our skin over time. Whether our microbiome age matches our chronological age or is younger may indicate that the world inside us has also been aging healthily. Fortunately, we now have the technology to listen to our microbiome and learn its age. Moreover, it is not difficult to find ways to maintain or rejuvenate the world inside us.
The microbiome gives signals about our diseases. It tells us what it needs for protection and treatment.
With the science of the microbiome, a new scientific field was born, with unexplored possibilities for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment across a wide spectrum of diseases. Many scientific studies have proven that microbiome dysbiosis could lead to poor prognosis and even pathogenesis in many diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases. These studies have brought forward the idea of microbiome-based early diagnosis. Thus, hundreds of start-up companies around the world that have invested millions of dollars are working hard to develop kits for the early diagnosis of diseases using different biological samples, primarily stool. Because the entire world of science is aware that the microbiome will tell us what our disease is if we can hear its voice and understand its language.
In addition to early diagnosis, the idea that restoring or strengthening the microbiome balance could be a therapeutic intervention emerged with scientific studies. Stool transplantation, targeted bacteriophage use, use of prebiotic, probiotic, symbiotic, and post-biotic, and diet were regarded as the major methods that were or could potentially be used in microbiome manipulation for prevention and/or treatment. Unfortunately, scientists have witnessed the negative effects of using one or more of these methods for prevention or treatment without actually listening to the microbiome and understanding its needs. We should keep in mind that the microbiome, which is as unique to us as our fingerprint, tells us what stage it is in, which aspects it lacks, and what its needs are. We may have the same complaints as person A or person B, or even get the same diagnosis by a physician, but our microbiome may not speak the same language as that of person A or person B. That’s why we have to listen specifically to our own microbiome and decipher its language. Fortunately, humanity now has the technology and scientific knowledge to hear and understand it.