I’ve previously posted about using probiotics/bioaugmentation as a way to reduce or prevent infection. At EEID 2013, many talks and posters considered this role of the microbiome. I’m going to quickly give you an example, and then talk about a really cool discussion topic: using perturbations to cultivate bacterial communities associated with healthy organisms.
Katherine Lemon studies the bacterial communities in the human nose. (Swag points go to her for a talk entitled “Nose picking for progress: mining for bacterial strains with therapeutic potential.”) Specifically, she’s interested in Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that she calls a “pathobiont.” S. aureus hangs out in the noses of ~30% of adults, typically not causing any problems, but sometimes it goes rogue and becomes a serious pathogen. Interestingly, it looks like other bacteria species in the respiratory tract can inhibit S. aureus growth, just like some bacteria inhibit Bd on amphibians.
During her talk, Katherine talked about diseases of “dysbiosis.” These are diseases that result from something being off in the symbiotic bacterial community. How can we treat such diseases? Well, this is a good place for community ecologists to step in, because the question really is: how do we go from our current community (the community associated with a diseased state) to a different community (the community associated with a healthy state)? The field of restoration ecology may be a particularly good place to start.
First, there’s the interesting example of the fecal transplant. This has been in the news recently, so you’ve probably heard of it. In short, people with dysbiosis resulting in diarrhea are treated by having feces from someone with a healthy bacterial community “transplanted” into their intestine. Katherine mentioned something that I hadn’t known about these fecal transplants. That is, first, the patient is given a laxative, which pretty much totally flushes out the old bacteria community. I find that really interesting, because in restoration ecology, you don’t typically wipe out the old community and just try to stick the target community in it’s place.
How is treating a disease of dysbiosis like restoring a plant/animal community? How is it different? Isn’t this awesome?!