While most consider the Human Genome Project to be complete and have mapped out all the genes that make us human, in fact if you count the genes of the bacterias living in our guts that we can't live without, we are less than 10% of the way there.
To more precisely hack the gut bacteria, Blaser calls for a Gut Genome Project, modeled after the Human Genome Project. It's a daunting task: The human genome, mapped to great fanfare but still dimly understood, contains a tenth of the genes believed to be in our gut bacteria. But though difficult, such research could prove vital.I think a Gut Genome Project makes a lot of sense and hope that the scientific community goes after it.
Why is this important to health?
"Many of the most difficult problems in medicine today are chronic inflammatory diseases," says Blaser. "These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, atherosclerosis, eczema and multiple sclerosis. One possibility is that they're autoimmune or genetic diseases. The other possibility is that they are physiological responses to changes in microbiota."Who knows what other health ailments could be treated with healthier gut bacteria?
In a recent study, Kukkonen and her colleagues gave a probiotic containing four strains of gut bacteria to 461 infants labeled as high risk for developing allergic disorders. After two years, the children were 25 percent less likely than those given a placebo to develop eczema, a type of allergic skin inflammation.
Even the H. Pylori bacteria that leads to ulcers in some people might be benifical to others:
H. pylori's decline, says Blaser, correlates with a rapid rise in those afflictions. H. pylori deficiency may also contribute to obesity, he says, because the bacteria help regulate production of two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, that affect metabolism and appetite.Our ignorance of gut bacteria is profound. A Gut Genome Project would help to correct this and would lead to increased health.