UCSD researchers study benefits of microbiomes

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SAN DIEGO — Local researchers now think a collection of organisms found everywhere in our bodies could be the answer to everything from cancer to allergies to weight loss.

Microbiomes are a collection of tiny organisms that inhabit every nook and cranny of our body. Adults have an estimated 100 trillion cells -- ten times the number of human cells. A person's personal balance of microbiomes could be the answer researchers like those at UC San Diego been waiting for.

“We care about microbiomes because they do so many more things than we ever imagined,” said lead researcher, UCSD professor Dr. Rob Knight. “We’re learning new things about it every day. Three years ago we didn’t know microbiomes would be better at determining obesity than genes.”

Human genes can’t be changed, but microbiomes alter throughout life. Everything from what we eat to touch could change our microbiome chemistry.

The questions researchers are now asking are, “How do we change those microbiomes in order to save a life? What if we could alter microbiomes to help a patient respond to cancer treatment,” Knight said.

“If we could take control of that process of change and make sure we’re changing it into a good direction, that will keep us healthy for our whole lifespan.”

UCSD is also changing the very way science is studied. Starting this week, departments that never used to work together, like anthropology and biomedical research, will team up to see why our lifestyles could affect these microbiomes.

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