Sunday, May 26, 2013

Love Your Microbes, Kiss Your Dog

One of the suspects in my mystery novel, A Matter of Taste, is a sort of “microbe crusader,” who lectures my sleuth regarding the human gut’s need for a wide spectrum of bacteria to be healthy. The character is not surprisingly a product of my own beliefs, which—though falling short of the over-the-top proselytizing engaged in by the murder suspect in the book—do include advocating for a reduction of the use of antibiotics in our culture, as well as an increase in the consumption of bacterial-rich foods such as kimchee and yogurt.

So I was therefore quite pleased to see Michael Pollan’s newest contribution to the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs” (5/18/13).

I always love Pollan’s articles, which tend to look at issues from a first-person perspective, thereby making what could be rather dry subjects more personal and immediate. (In the article “Power Steer,” which first brought him to my attention, for instance—a piece later expanded to become The Omnivore’s Dilemma—he purchased a calf and then followed its progress from field to packing-house.)

In this recent article, Pollan has his own gut sampled by a lab, to see what microbes reside within. Among the things we learn in the piece is that “we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes.” And I found this interesting:

Most of the microbes that make up a baby’s gut community are acquired during birth — a microbially rich and messy process that exposes the baby to a whole suite of maternal microbes. Babies born by Caesarean, however, a comparatively sterile procedure, do not acquire their mother’s vaginal and intestinal microbes at birth.... [This] is less than ideal and may account for higher rates of allergy, asthma and autoimmune problems in C-section babies: not having been seeded with the optimal assortment of microbes at birth, their immune systems may fail to develop properly.

But I won’t attempt to paraphrase what’s in the article; you should really read it yourself (link above).

And if you’re interested in going back to any of Michael Pollan’s past contributions to the NY Times Magazine, there’s a collection of them here.

One last thing: I’ve been getting a lot of spam (i.e. advertising) comments of late, so I’ve now added the dreaded “word verification” requirement, so as to hopefully limit comments to those by human beings. Do let me know if they’re indecipherable (or if you get any doozies).


  1. Maybe if I had quickly reintroduced microbes into my mouth after radiation killed them all I wouldn't have had such a problem. Or, on the other hand, maybe they had to come back organically and it would have made it all worse...Anyway, I think they are back, bless the little suckers.

  2. Hi, Leslie,

    Off-topic, but I noticed a Robert Orrizzi cited on your blog. I am a musician, former DJ and record collector, and wonder if he is the man behind a 45 rpm release from 1966 on Ozard Records called "I Believe In Love" by Sue Harris. If so, may I please ask that he contact me at phd45 at Verizon dot net, as I have long been curious about this very pretty song and its background. This is not a commercial request; just a post from a fan who was googling the record today. Thank you.

    Paul Payton