Is the overuse of antibiotics permanently altering microbial flora of the human body? In a Wired magazine interview, Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology, explains how superbugs—those drug-resistant bacteria—may also be contributing to the increasing incidence of obesity, allergies, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux. Surprising research also shows that people who have H. pylori are less likely to have childhood-onset asthma and hay fever. Read more from Dr. Blaser on probiotics, hand sanitizers, and the sea change away from broad-spectrum antibiotics.
We’re in the midst of an extinction crisis, and it doesn’t involve Siberian tigers. Microbiologist Martin Blaser of New York University School of Medicine says that many species of germs are disappearing from our bodies—and that’s a problem.
In his new book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, Blaser argues that while antibiotics have saved countless lives, they’re an assault on our microbiome. His experiments have linked the resulting extinctions to disorders from asthma to obesity. WIRED spoke to Blaser about the need to look at our bodies less as battlefields to be conquered and more as gardens to be tended.
You’ve studied the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, which causes ulcers and gastric cancer. That sounds like something you would want to wipe out.
H. pylori is responsible for 80 percent or more of stomach cancer cases. But as we were studying it, we kept finding it in healthy people all over the world. I began to think, “Well, if everybody has it, maybe it’s not so bad.”
What’s so good about it?
Our research shows that people who have H. pylori are less likely to have childhood-onset asthma and hay fever.
If one species can have that effect, it’s fascinating to think about what all the other species we harbor are doing. How many species are we talking about?
The average person probably has at least several thousand. But we don’t really know. We’re in the early days of discovery.