Excellent piece in the NY Times Magazine by @michaelpollan "Some of my best friends are germs" #ASM2013

Quick post here.  There is a really nice piece on in the New York Times Sunday Magazine by Michael Pollan on the human microbiome: Say Hello to the 100 Trillion Bacteria That Make Up Your Microbiome.  In it he discusses how he had his microbiome typed by the American Gut Project  and he discusses browsing through the output.  He also discusses a diversity of issues in the microbiome and work of various folks.  People featured include Justin Sonnenburg, Rob Knight, Burce German, Catherine Lozupone, Stanley Falkow, Jeffrey Gordon, Michael Fischback, Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Martin Blaser, Ruth Ley, Andrew Gewirtz, Patrice Cani, Erica Sonnenburg, and Stephen O’Keefe.  The article does a really good job of highlighting why the microbiome is important yet does not oversell what we know at this point.

I note – Pollan came to UC Davis as part of his research for the article a little while back.  Below are some pics of him getting a tour of the UC Davis LEED Platinum brewing facility.  Anyway the article is definitely worth a look.  And just in time for the ASM 2013 Meeting which I am about to head to this AM.

Viruses as food additives

I find it sad that the world has come to this. The FDA announced that it has approved the use of viruses as a food additive. The particular viruses (known as phage in this case) target and kill common bacterial pathogens found in meat. It is entirely possible that this treatment will lead to reduction in deaths and illnesses. However, it is also possible that there will be unexpected consequences of this treatment and thus anything like this should be done with caution. What saddens me about this whole thing is that it is the wrong way to go about solving the problem. Most of the problem comes from the fact that our meat today in this country does not come to us in reasonable condition. The animals are usually kept in unsanitary conditions where diseases and nasty pathogens are prevalent.

The best way to think about this in my opinion is what I read in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the new book by Michael Pollan. In this book he talks about how animals now frequently live in what can be considered the equivalent of the slums of the industrial revolution. Cities of animals, frequently wallowing in excrement, is not the best way to prevent bad microbes from getting in our food.

So in recent years all sorts of practices have been developed to kill these microbes in food products. Irradiation, for example. And now, viruses, sprinkled on your meat, to keep the bacteria from growing too much. Give me meat from animals that have not been swimming in their own shit and piss and I will be happy to take my risks without dumping viruses on top.