Issue Date: October 12, 2009
Microbes Among Us
Sarah Everts' article, "Extended Family" (C&EN, July 20, page 43), concerning the trillions of microbes in our bodies is most exciting for the potential that it raises. The likelihood that good bacteria in our bodies are protecting us from some illnesses suggests that the pharmaceutical companies may produce "probiotic" pills in the future that will combat specific diseases. They may even design new bacteria for these purposes. An exciting new field of nutrition may be what we eat and when in order to benefit specific bacteria that are useful to us, while avoiding things that encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
Giles F. Carter
"Extended Family" ignored the seminal research by a relatively small group of microbiologists who surveyed the playing field and identified the players for the geneticists. Between 1963 and 1984, about 99% of the bacteria of the intestinal tract were identified, counted, and characterized. Those were exciting times. Hundreds of papers were published, three international societies and several national societies formed, and two new journals begun.
For each species in the gastrointestinal tract, we learned the identity, cytology, metabolic activities, and numbers of microbes per gram of fluid; the interplay between bacteria and protozoa; the interactions between microbe and microvillus; the good and the harm expected from each subspecies; the effects of antibiotics and probiotics; and how to control the balance of species for good health. A summary of this work was edited by my coworker, David J. Hentges ("Human Intestinal Microflora in Health and Disease," Academic Press, 1983).
Associate Dean Herb Goldberg, a microbiologist at the Medical School of the University of Missouri, Columbia, deserves much credit for sponsoring seven biannual international symposia on intestinal microbiology. My involvement began with my book, "Germfree Life and Gnotobiology" (Academic Press, 1963) and continued with my organizing the seven symposia and coediting those volumes.
In 1984, I was knighted at Greiffensteine Castle in central Germany for "world leadership in microecology."
Thomas Don Luckey
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