Amid the trillions of microbes that live in the intestines, scientists have found a few species that seem to play a key role in keeping us healthy.
In the mid-2000s Harry Sokol, a gastroenterologist at Saint Antoine Hospital in Paris, was surprised by what he found when he ran some laboratory tests on tissue samples from his patients with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gut. The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease remains a mystery. Some have argued that it results from a hidden infection; others suspect a proliferation of certain bacteria among the trillions of microbes that inhabit the human gut. But when Sokol did a comparative DNA analysis of diseased sections of intestine surgically removed from the patients, he observed a relative depletion of just one common bacterium, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Rather than “bad” microbes prompting disease, he wondered, could a single “good” microbe prevent disease?
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