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STEM in Context

Are Microbes Your Friend or Foe?

Sakina Bano Mendha
Format
Video Text
Readability
7.77
Subjects

Summary

Microbes are everywhere, even in your digestive tract. Some of these microbes are helpful, and some aren’t.

Microbes are tiny organisms that you can only see with a microscope. Bacteria, fungi and viruses are all examples of microbes. They are everywhere.They are in deep oceans. They are in the air we breathe. They are in the soil surrounding plants. And they are even inside your digestive system

Did you know?

The word microbe is short for microbial life, or microorganisms.

There are many types of helpful microbes. For example, microbes in the soil help with environmental processes like the nitrogen cycle. Microbes in the human digestive tract help you get as many nutrients as possible from the food you eat.

But there are also microbes that aren’t helpful. Some microbes can change the way proteins are made in their host. The host (that’s you!) might end up with certain diseases. Microbes can also keep you from making certain proteins that protect you from diseases. For example, microbes can play a role in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

Did you know?

The adult human body contains trillions of microbes. As an adult, you’ll have more microbes than cells!

Collections of microbes that live in a certain place are called microbiomes. Some scientists are researching the microbiomes in human digestive systems. Dan Knights is a computational microbiologist at the University of Minnesota. He has studied wild primates, primates in zoos, and humans. He has found that monkeys in the wild who move into captivity (zoos) end up with less microbe diversity in their digestive systems. They often have problems with diarrhea, obesity and other digestive issues. Knights believes the changes in their microbiomes may be to blame. 

He has also found that another group of primates gets digestive system changes when they change environments. Can you guess which group? If you said humans, you’re right! 

Want to learn more about Dan Knights’ microbe research? Watch the video below!

So does this research affect you? Yes, because there are things you can do to make your microbiome healthier. For example, some scientists think that eating probiotic foods like yoghurt may help. 

Starting Points

Connecting and Relating
  • Have you ever suffered from gastrointestinal problems at home or when traveling? What did you blame for causing these upsets to your digestive system?
  • Have you ever thought about the fact that your gut is full of microbes? How does that make you feel? Explain.
  • Do you ever think about feeding the microbes in your body when you are making food selections? How do you think microbes interact with the foods you eat?
Connecting and Relating
  • Have you ever suffered from gastrointestinal problems at home or when traveling? What did you blame for causing these upsets to your digestive system?
  • Have you ever thought about the fact that your gut is full of microbes? How does that make you feel? Explain.
  • Do you ever think about feeding the microbes in your body when you are making food selections? How do you think microbes interact with the foods you eat?
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • People rarely live in one place all their lives. Many people travel to diverse locations in the world. Do you think that a world population, which is increasingly on the move, is going to change the nature of human microbiomes? Explain.
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • People rarely live in one place all their lives. Many people travel to diverse locations in the world. Do you think that a world population, which is increasingly on the move, is going to change the nature of human microbiomes? Explain.
Exploring Concepts
  • What is a microbiome?
  • Why could the types of microbes in your digestive change when you visit a new place?
  • Research a disease that affects the microbiome of the human digestive system.
  • Investigate how different substances can alter or destroy the population of microbes in the human digestive system. What methods are there to fix or regenerate microbes in the digestive system?
Exploring Concepts
  • What is a microbiome?
  • Why could the types of microbes in your digestive change when you visit a new place?
  • Research a disease that affects the microbiome of the human digestive system.
  • Investigate how different substances can alter or destroy the population of microbes in the human digestive system. What methods are there to fix or regenerate microbes in the digestive system?
Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used to introduce the concept of microorganisms (or microbes). This article can also be useful to help students deepen their understanding of the human microbiome and the role of microbes in the body, especially in the digestive system.
  • Prior to reading the article, teachers could engage students in paired or small group discussions using the questions in the “Connecting and Relating” section above to activate prior knowledge and interest in the topic.
Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used to introduce the concept of microorganisms (or microbes). This article can also be useful to help students deepen their understanding of the human microbiome and the role of microbes in the body, especially in the digestive system.
  • Prior to reading the article, teachers could engage students in paired or small group discussions using the questions in the “Connecting and Relating” section above to activate prior knowledge and interest in the topic.

Learn more

10 ways to improve your gut bacteria, based on science (2016)

Article on Healthline about the ways that gut bacteria can be improved, and could lead to better health.

Your Microbiome: The Invisible Creatures That Keep You Alive! (2016)

Video (6:41 min.) from It’s Okay To Be Smart about the nature of the microscopic life that lives on an inside humans.

References

Wen, L., & Duffy, A. (2017). Factors influencing the gut microbiota, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. The Journal Of Nutrition, 147(7), 1468S-1475S. DOI: 10.3945/jn.116.240754