Our microscopic surroundings have come into focus, but for all the wrong reasons, sadly, as we scrub hands, sanitize door handles, and don masks to protect ourselves from an unseen foe. A virus has all but slowed the spinning of our globe, humbling an existence we tout as advanced. Our ability to wordlessly order dinner or voice command our desk lamp has clearly not vaulted us beyond the threats that plagued our ancestors.
We live in symbiosis with the natural world, which can assert its power to end or enable our lives. While the word symbiosis has origins in the Greek word for “living together,” pathogens’ parasitic symbiosis often causes harm to its host rather than creating harmony. These microscopic menaces should not, however, define the whole lot. We live with a cadre of others that are critical to our survival — bacteria, viruses, archaea, protozoa, and fungi — collectively called the microbiota.
Microbiomes are complex systems that are constantly in flux; they exist in every environment on Earth, from deep within the ocean to deep within our bodies. The human microbiome has evolved with us and is almost as much a part of us as our heart, lungs, and kidneys. The microbiome of our gastrointestinal system is the largest microbial community in humans. It plays a critical role in...
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