Life depends on several things. The latest discovery is that it depends on what we usually think it threatens it: the microbes. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise given that life emerged from them, and that, in a life extinction scenario, they would thrive and do it all over again.
Researchers from China, the US, and the UK joined minds and came up with a study that brings a lot of hope. Their research might one day be the answer to how the effects of aging can be reversed or how the onset of age-related disease can be prevented.
The latest discoveries have even induced the hypothesis of an extra body organ: the microbiome. The researchers studied four of the human microbiotas and discovered that age could be traced form, analyzing microbes from the skin, saliva, gut, and feces. The skin microbiota proved to be the most accurate indicator of age.
The human microbiome – the new extra organ of the human body
The body has a bunch of ecological communities of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms called microbiotas. Plants and animals have them too. A microbiota includes bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, and viruses. Microbiota is crucial for immunologic, hormonal, and metabolic homeostasis of their host.
The microbiome is somehow synonymous. It describes either the collective genomes of the microorganisms that reside in an environment or the microorganisms themselves.
The human microbiome is the aggregate of all microbiota that reside on or within human tissues and biofluids. They live on the skin, mammary glands, placenta, seminal fluid, uterus, ovarian follicles, lung, saliva, oral mucosa, conjunctiva, biliary tract, and gastrointestinal tract.
The microbiome is considered an extra organ, that the human being is carrying along, and has a crucial impact on the health and the proper functioning of all the other organs.
The new study on microbes
Microbiota data from 8959 samples in 10 different studies were analyzed for the study. 4434 feces samples, 2550 saliva samples, and 1975 skin samples. Skin microbiota could predict the age within 3,8 years, saliva microbiota within 4,5 years, and feces microbiota within 11,5 years.
It might seem shallow to make such a fuss to predict the age of someone. But this isn’t the ultimate goal of the study. Given the importance of the extra organ for the rest of the human body, the data gathered by the researchers will help them understand better the functioning of it.
Every known organ has parameters that tell if the organ is healthy or not. It should be the same in the case of the microbiome. Although it might feel strange to accept that microbes could be considered in a healthy balance, that is precisely what the researchers are trying to achieve.
“In other words, you could be 100 years old, but you’ve got a microbiome of a 50-year-old or a 20-year-old because you’re so healthy,” Professor El-Omar, director of the Microbiome Research Centre at UNSW Sydney, who wasn’t involved in the research, said.
Microbes might become a new way to stay young and healthy. Instead of addressing the disease or the wrinkles, doctors and researchers in the future might address the microbes, trying to make them feel welcome on and in the human body. And so they should, given their ancestral existence.