I am often struck by what we know about the body, but also by how much we don’t know. My biggest bug-bear is the degree to which we underestimate complexity. This is something which Darcy and I often debate, which creates a healthy tension when developing new products. Darcy is an engineer who likes to see a pattern and then build a solution, I am a biologist and like to explore, ask questions, answer them and explore some more. In a biologist’s world there are never enough data – therein lies the tension – but somehow it works and we get there!
It seems to me that just like when you buy a new car, the pervasiveness of gut health research is everywhere I go. All I see and read about is gut microbiota and the new research tying the world of microorganisms that live within us and on us, with our health status.
All the parts of our body, internal and external have different make-up of microorganisms, the bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa that make it to our gut have to survive the acid environment of our stomach, the microorganisms that live in our mouth have to survive what we put in our mouths and those that live on our skin, need to survive the climate and cleaning products they are subjected to.
This means, not only are there different species of microorganisms but different balances of species and we are learning that often it is the species balance which is critical for optimal health – too many of certain species can upset the balance, what is known as homeostasis in biological terms.
In a recent review article, published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, the authors describe the “gut-lung axis” and the complex interactions that occur between the microorganisms living in our gut and those that live in our lungs in relation to how they shape our immune response and our response to respiratory disease.
Interestingly, much of modern research has focused on bacterial species, but this review also highlights that there are fungal species which play an integral part of our gut and lung biota and these fungi might have significant roles to play in modulating the bacterial species that live within our bodies and vice versa!
It is a dynamic, complex world inside of is – have a look at this table to see some of the early research related to lung disease and associated microbial populations (Table source) and see th diagram below, from the same paper (source) demonstrating the inter-compartmental “cross-talk” between the microorganisms.
Microorganism cross-talk across species kingdoms and organs in our body
The diagram below (from this scientific review) shows the impact of ingesting pro and pre – biotics on lungs which are healthy and those which have been exposed to pollution and gut-lung axis.
Constant exposure to pollutants causes systemic inflammation, cellular damage and a breakdown of the epithelial barriers which line our intestines and lungs – treatment with pre- and probiotics can help in creating the balance/homeostasis needed to return to good health.
Probiotics and prebiotics can help repair the damaging effects of pollution in the lungs & intestines
As humans, we think of ourselves as one species, yet we live and carry around many species which have a whole ecosystem of their own, contributing to and driving our health and balance. As we gain a better understanding of the kingdoms within, we will also have a better understanding of how the food and medicines we take, and lifestyle factors, impact these critical communities.
It’s tremendously exciting and as a biologist, I see so much to explore – thank goodness the engineer in the team occasionally draws a line in the sand of discovery so that we can build things!