Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbesby Rob Knight
In just the last few years, scientists have shown how the microscopic ecosystem within our bodies—particularly
Allergies, asthma, obesity, stomachaches, acne: these are just a few of the conditions that may be caused—and cured—by the microscopic life inside us. Understand how to use groundbreaking science to improve your health, mood, and more.
In just the last few years, scientists have shown how the microscopic ecosystem within our bodies—particularly within ourintestines—has an astonishing impact on our lives. Pioneering scientist Rob Knight and award-winning science journalist Brendan Buhler explain—with humor and witty metaphors—why these new findings matters to everyone.
You are mostly not you. The human gut is host to trillions of microbes, and evidence shows that small changes in these microbes present (altered by antibiotics, diet, geographic region, and so on) may affect weight, likelihood of disease, and even psychological factors like risk-taking behavior. The evidence for their influence is astonishing. Rob Knight is one of the key figures driving forward this new science. His work demonstrates the startling connection between the presence of certain harmless bacteria and the health benefits we all seek—for ourselves and our children.
In Follow Your Gut, Knight pairs with Brendan Buhler, an award-winning science writer, to explore the previously unseen world inside our bodies. With a practical eye toward deeper knowledge and better decisions, they lead a detailed tour of our “microbiome” as well as an exploration of the known effects of antibiotics, probiotics, diet choices, birth method, and access to livestock on our children’s lifelong health. Ultimately, this pioneering book explains how to learn about your own “microbiome” and take steps toward understanding and improving your health, using the latest research as a guide.
- Simon & Schuster Audio / TED
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Read an Excerpt
Follow Your Gut
Just how much microscopic life dwells inside you?
If we’re going by weight, the average adult is carrying about three pounds of microbes. This makes your microbiome one of the largest organs in your body—roughly the weight of your brain and a little lighter than your liver.
We’ve already learned that, in terms of sheer numbers of cells, the microbial cells in our bodies outnumber the human cells by up to ten to one. What happens if we measure by DNA? In that case, each of us of us has about twenty thousand human genes. But we’re carrying some two million to twenty million microbial genes. Which means that, genetically speaking, we’re at least 99 percent microbe.
If you want a salve for human dignity, think of this as a matter of complexity. Every human cell contains many more genes than a microbial cell. But you contain so many microbes that all their various genes add up to more than your own.
The organisms that live within and upon us are many and varied. Most, but not all of them, are single-celled organisms. They come from all three main branches of the tree of life. You might find in your gut members of the archaea, single-celled organisms that make do without nuclei; the most common of these are the methanogens, creatures that exist without oxygen, help digest our food, and excrete methane gas. (Cows have them, too.) Then there are eukaryotes, such as the fungi of athlete’s foot, and the yeasts that colonize the vagina and sometimes our gut. And most dominant of all, there are our bacteria, like Escherichia coli, which we think of mostly as an illness to be caught from underwashed spinach but that actually exists in harmless and helpful versions within most human intestines.
Meet the Author
Rob Knight is a Professor of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering and Director of the Microbiome Initiative at the University of California, San Diego. He is cofounder of the American Gut Project and the Earth Microbiome Project.
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