Friends You Didn’t Know You Had

You may be ready for Thanksgiving, but you have assignments and exams leading up to the last minute of freedom on Wednesday. Winter is coming–and if that isn’t gloomy enough, your friends are all just as stressed.

If you’re ever feeling stressed or lonely, remember: you have a 100 trillion friends in your body. In your whole existence, you have never been alone. Isn’t that a comforting thought?

“What do you mean, Anya?”

Well, consider me your local microbiologist friend. Yes, that picture on the top of this page is one of my slides from the lab.


For every human cell in your body, there are 10 microbes. However, the bacteria in your body help you in all sorts of ways! Your best friends are germs. To summarize:

  1. Bacteria play a critical role in helping you digest food and may affect your overall metabolism. In fact, when the microbiomes of obese mice were swapped with those of lean mice, the obese mice were found to lose weight.
  2. The bacteria in our bodies help us manufacture certain proteins, neurotransmitters and signaling molecules. Some of these are involved in regulating stress levels, which can affect your temperament and mood.
  3. The microbes in your body help regulate your immune system.  They help you determine when to have an allergic reaction (is this walnut a friend or foe?). Additionally, there are “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria that are training your immune system. Your immune system has to be on constant alert to determine which is which.
  4. People living in different parts of the world have vastly different microbiota. For example, people living in Japan have a bacterium that is really great at digesting seaweed. Your microbiome is distinguished by the food that you eat–whether you and your ancestors ate a lot of corn, or ate a lot of protein, will be reflected in your gut.

There is one piece of bad news. Our overuse of antibiotics in the food and medical industries may be irrevocably changing our microbiomes. In fact, many scientists speculate that this is leading to an increase in autoimmune diseases in our country. It is hard to predict what this means and it is unclear whether there will be negative consequences. As a general rule, avoid heavily processed foods and eat lots of natural products containing fiber.

Additionally… bacteria can be used for other cool purposes. My personal favorites: making art and restoring art.

Finally, look at these “infectiously cute” stuffed animals. Hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving! Don’t forget to thank your microbes for helping you digest all of that food you’re bound to eat.


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