Berkeley Lab

Health and Environment

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The human gut microbiome is increasingly viewed as a virtual organ, complete with strategies for transplantation


An integrated approach to determine the effects of gut microbes on host susceptibility to environmental chemical exposure

Within the human body, the microbiome has long been known as an important provider of essential nutrients and co-factors. More recently, though, imbalances in the body’s microbial communities – which compete for space and resources — have been directly associated with such diseases and disorders as obesity (metabolic), asthma (inflammatory) and autism (neurologic). Some have suggested that the significant rise in these illnesses and a corresponding decline in infectious diseases are being influenced by such key environmental interactions as toxicant exposure, diet and patterns of early life microbial exposure. What is certain at this point is that microorganisms have the potential to regulate the development of our immune system and to mitigate or worsen the effects of toxicants or dietary components in ways that we have only begun to perceive. Indeed, the gut microbiome is increasingly viewed as a virtual organ, complete with strategies for transplantation. This new view of microorganisms comes at a time when our Earth’s subsystems, including freshwater, forests, agro-ecosystems, oceans, urban centers and the atmosphere itself, are being radically transformed by human activities. Understanding how our changing planet might in turn be changing our own health is a grand challenge for public science and one that could yield new technologies for prediction, manipulation and therapy.

Our initial M2B activities in this area will target the role of the microbiome in determining risks associated with exposure to common pesticides. Read more.