THE “FORGOTTEN ORGAN”

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(AKA: What is this? Why is it important?)

When I typed “Gut Microbiota” in Google Scholar and limited publication dates from 1900-1950, I discovered 16 articles. 1951-1980: 291 hits. 1981-1990: 497 hits. 1991-2000: 2,130. 2001-2010: 26,100. Publications from 2015 alone: 5,030 and counting! I thought about producing a graph, but it seemed pretty pointless. On second thought, why not?

[A Pretty Pointless Graph: The Rise of Microbiome Research]

Pretty Pointless

During the 19th and 20th century, most microbiologists studies focused on pathogenic bacteria. This led researchers O’Hara and Shanahan to label the gut microbiota, as the ultimate “forgotten organ.” In the abstract of their 2006 EMBO publication, O’Hara and Shanahan noted the gut microbiota “is a positive health asset” that “has a collective metabolic activity equal to a virtual organ within an organ.” Germ-free animals exhibited marked physical changes (decreased muscle thickness and smaller Peyer’s patches*) and increased susceptibility to infections. However, these microbes might also contribute to diseased states, such as Crohn’s or IBD, if an individual displayed an immune intolerance towards certain microbes. O’Hara and Shanahan speculated that further study of the gut microbiota might reveal undiscovered methods vital to understanding host-pathogen interactions. Indeed, 2006 appeared to be a major milestone in microbiology research; the age of microbiome research had emerged. Within the next decade microbiologists examined the impact of the gut microbiota on obesity, metabolism, depression, autism, immunology, and behavior. More to come in the following blogs!

*Peyer’s Patches: these are lymph node “islands” located in the mammalian large intestine

Sources + Additional Information

http://embor.embopress.org/content/7/7/688

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