The bug world gets more fascinating by the day: Bacterial intelligence…
One thing I’ve never regretted is choosing the study of bugs that cause disease after having explored every other medical specialty. It certainly wasn’t the most attractive and glamorous (or even paying!) specialty three decades ago but what a fascinating world I’ve entered. It never ceases to amaze me, each day unfolds yet another mysterious fact that was hitherto unimaginable. Now we are truly entering the world of ‘Bacterial intelligence’. It may sound like science fiction but it is true but that bacteria in our body out-number our own cells hundred fold. They are so powerful and controlling that they affect our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want. Now you know why you can’t hold back your hand from that pile of pasta or reach the very end of the chocolate bar, it’s really not your fault. Its ‘them’ forcing you to do things against your will.
And I’m not just fibbing. Scientists reviewed many studies and have come to a conclusion that microbes influence our eating behavior to drive us to eat the nutrients that best support their growth. Like you & me some prefer fats , some sugar, some alas Both! They not only vie with each other for food and to retain their place in the world inside our guts, they profoundly influence what we do too. And all this while we mistakenly believed we were the most intelligent beings. The fancy name for this ecosystem inside us is ‘gut microbiome’. These little beings release substances when they eat & ‘shit’ the wastes into us, which act as signaling molecules. And because what we have inbuilt in the lining of the gut is the MALT(mucosal associated lymphoid tissue). This is a crucial part of our immune system and closely linked to the hormonal & nervous system. So essentially ‘they’ are in some way controlling our ‘controlling body systems’. Sounds eerie and familiar too. How many middle aged men & women blame their tubby midriffs to ‘hormones’ especially women. Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood by producing toxins to make us feel bad or good by releasing happy chemicals.
Fortunately, it’s a two way street since we can control ‘them’ too by deciding what we feed them. Scientists studying the composition of microbiome in the gut have seen noticeable changes within 24 hours of changing the diet. So can we train them to eat seaweed to force us to eat healthy sushi? Scientists are trying experiments with gut transplantation of bugs that like seaweeds to sway them to work in our favor. Some hope at last to force a die-hard rich Indian food consuming middle aged woman to switch to eating sushi daily in pursuit of good health but ‘fecal transplantation’ from a Japanese gut to mine, sounds icky. Any takers amongst you?