Are microbes your friend or your foe?

Sakina Bano Mendha
17 September 2018

Above: Image © TLFurrer,

Microbes are tiny organisms that you can only see with a microscope. Bacteria, fungi and viruses are all examples of microbes. Microbes (short for microbial life) are everywhere! They are in deep oceans, in the air we breathe, in the soil surrounding plants...and even inside your digestive tract!

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 from the food you eat as possible.

But there are microbes that aren’t helpful, as well. Some microbes can hijack the gene of their host and can lead to certain diseases. For example, microbes can play a role in inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Did you know? The human gut contains trillions of microbes.

Researchers have found that microbes can alter gene expression in the cells of their host. They activate certain genes which are responsible for causing diseases. They also deactivate certain proteins that protect you from diseases.

There is other research happening as well. For example, Dan Knight, a computational microbiologist at the University of Minnesota, has studied wild primates, primates in zoos, and humans. He has found that monkeys who move into captivity from the wild end up with less microbe diversity in their guts. This can lead them to sickness and even death. He has also found that another group of primates experiences gut changes when they change environments. That group is humans!

Want to learn more about Dan Knight’s research on microbes in your gut? Watch the video below!

So why does this research affect you? Obesity and diet are two of the main factors that can cause microbes to hijack your digestive system. This can lead to diseases. Just another reason why it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and stay active!

Learn More

The HIDDEN world of microbiomes (2016)
Piled Higher and Deeper

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

Bacteria living in our gut hijacking and controlling our genes (2018)
Science Alert


Microbiota Regulate Intestinal Epithelial Gene Expression by Suppressing the Transcription Factor Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 Alpha (2017)
Genome Research

Microbes seen controlling action of host's genes: Microbes muck up molecular machinery to influence health (2017)

Crohn's Disease Symptoms, Causes, Diet, Treatment, and Life Expectancy, (Accessed 2018)

Functional Metagenomics of the Human Gut and Prebiotic Breakdown Pathways (Accessed 2018)
Genetics and Cenomics Wiki

Faculty of 1000 evaluation for Cell-cell propagation of NF-kappaB transcription factor and MAP kinase activation amplifies innate immunity against bacterial infection. (2010) Immunity

The importance of studying the microbes living in your gut (2018)
Ted Talks

Sakina Bano Mendha

I am a Student currently enrolled doing my biology undergraduate studies from Montreal, Canada. I like playing badminton and doing Calligraphy. Skills: Public speaking, writing, research, teamwork.