Psychology Magazine

Our Microbial Aura - in the House and in the Garden

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds

I've always been fascinated by the fact that in "our" bodies most of the cells are not our own, they are microbial symbionts. I pass on here two more takes on this. First, from Lax et al. on microbial interaction between humans and the indoor environment, signature microbes follow us from house to house:

The bacteria that colonize humans and our built environments have the potential to influence our health. Microbial communities associated with seven families and their homes over 6 weeks were assessed, including three families that moved their home. Microbial communities differed substantially among homes, and the home microbiome was largely sourced from humans. The microbiota in each home were identifiable by family. Network analysis identified humans as the primary bacterial vector, and a Bayesian method significantly matched individuals to their dwellings. Draft genomes of potential human pathogens observed on a kitchen counter could be matched to the hands of occupants. After a house move, the microbial community in the new house rapidly converged on the microbial community of the occupants’ former house, suggesting rapid colonization by the family’s microbiota.
And, Anna North points to the beneficial effects of exposure to soil organisms. Some soil bacteria have the same antidepressant effect on mice as serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac. Clips from Lowry et al.'s abstract:
We have found that peripheral immune activation with antigens derived from the nonpathogenic, saprophytic bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, activated a specific subset of serotonergic neurons in the interfascicular part of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRI) of mice...The effects of immune activation were associated with increases in serotonin metabolism within the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, consistent with an effect of immune activation on mesolimbocortical serotonergic systems. The effects of M. vaccae administration on serotonergic systems were temporally associated with reductions in immobility in the forced swim test, consistent with the hypothesis that the stimulation of mesolimbocortical serotonergic systems by peripheral immune activation alters stress-related emotional behavior.

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