Durban - They are tiny, there are more of them inside and outside the body than there are cells, and they hold the potential to help detect illness before a person even feels sick.
Welcome to the world of microbiome, a new field of study which holds great promise for health care.
The microbiome, which includes viruses, fungi and bacteria that live within the body, is one of the topics on the programme at the 16th annual conference of the South African Society for Microbiology, currently under way in uMhlanga
Keynote speaker, Professor Karen Nelson, president of the J Craig Venter Institute in the US,
said: “We can change the microbiome with diet and stress… I think its going to become a big aspect of health care in the long term. If people start getting exposed to it now it would be good.”
Nelson said although the field was young, it was growing fast and they were already facing challenges of dealing with the amount of data being produced. The study of microbiomes could lead to personalised therapies and diagnostics, she said.
“They have looked at children with type 1 diabetes and can see very early on if there’s a possibility they could develop diabetes by looking at their microbiomes.
“Your microbiome can tell if you’re sick before you feel sick,” she said.
In her address, Nelson also said there were a variety of research areas looking at the causes of Traveller’s diarrhoea for example. “Being too clean might not be the best thing for the human body,” she said.
The conference ends on Wednesday.