Rutgers professor discusses bacterial resistance
Dr. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor and researcher in the Rutgers Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, is an expert in the field of the human microbiome. She said her research is focused on early life assembly of the microbiome and the effects of early use of antibiotics on development and the microbiome. She also studies the differences between the microbiome in traditional people and urban people.
She said bacterial species in Westernized civilizations are less diverse. Her research aims to discover what functions may have been lost due to this.
“Right now we have associations between becoming urban and losing diversity. The other association is between becoming urban and increasing immune diseases and metabolic. Are they caused by the same factor? That is what we want to know,” Dominguez-Bello said.
The microbiome plays a critical role in immune response and has since been correlated to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, gastric cancers, as well as neurodegenerative disorders, among many others. Dominguez-Bello said she thinks the effects on the microbiome in early life are connected to later health consequences.
She said some practices in Western society contribute to the lack of bacterial diversity and antibiotic resistance.
“Antibiotics in pregnancy, antibiotics during labor, antibiotics in the first year of life ... hygiene, chlorination of water, clean spaces, babies sleeping far from their parents. Many practices that are reducing the transmission and colonization of microbes,” Dominguez-Bello said.
A recent explosion of global research on the human microbiota shows these to be major contributing factors in antibiotic resistance, according to an article in the "Human Microbiome Journal."
Antibiotics are extremely effective at killing out the bad bacteria causing illness, but they are nondiscriminatory in their mechanism and kill out the beneficial bacteria as well. Extensive exposure to antibiotics depletes the bacteria colonies that live to digest our food which aid in metabolic functioning, and promote mental and emotional wellbeing.
If human bacteria continue to lose their biodiversity, societies could be looking at a new battle where once again bacterial diseases such as strep throat and pneumonia could not be cured by antibiotics, which could have fatal effects.
Dominguez-Bello believes this issue can be solved in the future.
“One thing that is working but not entirely desirably is fecal transplant. It works and it is approved to do ... but ideally we should understand what is it that makes the patient better ... Can we separate the active components and give it to the patient in a safer way? If we associate bacteria with health and disease, can we extract that from the feces and prepare the real probiotics, for example," she said. “But I don’t think we are there yet.”
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