Ethics and infectious disease
- R. Upshur
- World Health Organization. http://www.who. int…
surge in human microbiome research currently underway around the world. For the past decade, new molecular methods have started to unlock the secrets of this unseen universe, and suddenly it is dawning on us that human individuals are not the dominant life-form in the symbiosis of our existence. It is often quoted that humans are 10% human and 90% microbial when a comparative count of cell numbers is taken into consideration,1 but perhaps more astonishingly, it is now clear that our human microbiome, the collection of genes encoded by our microbial passengers, is at least one hundred-fold greater than our own genome. The diversity of the human ‘microbiota’ is enormous, with approximately 500–1000 species existing in our gastrointestinal tracts alone. We are the vessels for this community of microbes (including bacteria, viruses, and yeasts) living on us and in us, and as we start to unravel the multitude of roles that this microbiota fulfils, it is becoming clear that our microbes play a far more relevant and important role in the maintenance of our health than we have ever stopped to consider before.2 Therefore, it stands to reason that we are at a pivotal point in our attitude towards microbes in a medical context.