Buzzfeed includes microbiomes in "77 facts" but alas, gets the facts (and the math) wrong

Well, I admit it – I clicked on this Buzzfeed link someone posted on Facebook – 77 Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually Completely True.  There are some pretty funny and interesting things on the list.  However, I note – I did not click on the link per se for entertainment.   I clicked on it to see if there was anything about microbes on the list.  And happily, there was.  Alas, what there was, was, well, a bit wrong:

Let’s start with #67.  “There is 10 times more bacteria in your body than actual body cells“.  Well, alas, this is a nice bit of information.  But it is not based on facts.  See Peter Andrey Smiths wonderful article in the Boston Globe about this issue. The Buzzfeed article links to a 2010 Discover Magazine bit about this topic.  So they were trying to use facts.  But alas, that was not based on facts itself.

Then, let’s go to #68.  “And 90% of the cells that make us up of aren’t human but mostly fungi and bacteria.“.  So – I am at a bit of a loss on this.  First, isn’t this really just rehashing #67 with the addition of fungi to the story?  Also – I note the math here is weird.  #67 would lead one to conclude that 90.9% of the cells in your body are bacterial (10:1 = 10/11 = 90.9%).  So then if one adds fungi to the picture the percent of cells in our bodies that are not human goes DOWN to 90%.  How does that work exactly?

So not only do they get the 10x as many cells fact wrong, they do something really weird by basically repeating #67 and then doing some weird math.

Oh well, glad they have something on microbiomes.  Too bad it came out a bit wrong.

About Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis
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