Microbiome Medicine: Scientists Harness the Body’s ‘Bugs’ to Treat Asthma, MS, and More

Plenty of probiotic yogurts, pickles, and kombuchas claim to boost our digestive health with armies of microbes, but some scientists have more ambitious therapeutic plans for the “bugs” that colonize us. They hope to leverage these microbes as living therapeutics for a range of health conditions, including ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, eczema, and asthma. 

Our guts, skin, and other regions of the body harbor trillions of microbes, as many as we have cells of our own. Each of these microbes – bacteria, viruses, microscopic fungi, and others – that make up the human microbiome brings with it a unique genome. 

The composition of our microbiome – and its microbial pan-genome – is shaped by diet and environment, which in turn affect its important influences on human physiology, from digestion to brain health to immune function. 

“One real advantage of the microbiome is that it’s a dynamic system,” said Susan Lynch, PhD, professor of gastroenterology and director of the UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine. “What we’re thinking about is how we can leverage microbes in engineering that system to improve health or prevent disease.

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