If you want to get a good basic understanding of what’s going on in your gut and how the several pounds of micro-organisms in there affect your health, mood, sleep patterns, eating preferences and more, I highly recommend taking a look at this recently published little book by Rob Knight. It’s short, amusing, informative – and even has lots of charming drawings.
The small text to the left on the cover says:
“Microbes are integrated into almost all aspects of our lives, redefining what it means to be human.”
Rob Knight was just named a 2015 Vilcek Prize winner for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for his groundbreaking research on microbial communities and the development of computational tools that honed the analysis of microbial data. He’s Professor of Pediatrics, Computer Science, and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego. He’s also Director of the Microbiome Initiative at UCSD and co-founder of both the American Gut Project and the Earth Microbiome Project.
One of award-winning science journalist Brendan Buhler’s drawings from the book:
The University of Colorado at Boulder is offering a fascinating free online course on the human microbiome called
GUT CHECK: EXPLORING YOUR MICROBIOME
This course is going to cover many of the topics I’ve written about on this Allergies and Your Gut site/blog – but you’ll get to hear it and much more from the horses’ mouths: Prof. Rob Knight, Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Katherine Amato.
Rob Knight is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also works on the Human Microbiome Project.
Dr. Jessica Metcalf is an Evolutionary Biologist and Senior Research Associate at the BioFrontiers Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder.
Dr. Katherine R. Amato is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and part of the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She also contributes to the American Gut Project.
From the course’s website:
Imagine if there were an organ in your body that weighed as much as your brain, that affected your health, your weight, and even your behavior. Wouldn’t you want to know more about it? There is such an organ — the collection of microbes in and on your body, your human microbiome.
ABOUT THE COURSE
The human body harbors up to ten times as many microbial cells as human cells. What are these microbes and what are they doing? How can we study them to find out? What do they tell us about ourselves? Just as our human genome records traces of who we are and the conditions we have adapted to during evolutionary history, our microbial genomes may record traces of what we have eaten, where we have lived, and who we have been in contact with. The microbial ecosystems in different parts of our bodies, which differ radically from one another, also supply a wide range of functions that affect many aspects of human health.
Join us on a guided tour of the human gut and its microscopic inhabitants. We will first review what microbes are and how they get into our bodies. We will then discuss the methods we use to study microbial communities and briefly explore how gut microbiome data are analyzed. This information will provide us with a foundation to explore current microbiome research. We will cover topics such as the influence of the gut microbiota on our nutrition, health and behavior. Did you know that gut microbes may influence how sick we get or the way we feel? The course will culminate with an in-depth review of the American Gut Project, the world’s largest open-source, crowd-sourced science project, from how it works to what it’s taught us up until now.
Week 1: Introduction to microbes and the human microbiome
Meet Professor Rob Knight, Dr. Jessica Metcalf, and Dr. Katherine Amato as they introduce the human microbiome. Key topics this week are:
* What are microbes?
* The human microbiome
* Where do you get your microbes?
Week 2: How we study the microbiome
We will discuss the history of microbial research and review cutting-edge techniques used to examine microbial communities today. Key topics this week are:
* The history of studying microbes
* Basics of high-throughput DNA sequencing
* ‘Omics’ and other useful technologies
Week 3: Making sense out of microbial data
We will briefly review techniques used for analyzing microbiome data. This information will serve as a foundation for exploring recent discoveries in microbiome research later on. Key topics this week are:
* How do we identify a microbe?
* Basics of alpha-diversity
* Beta-diversity, and visualizing differences
Week 4: The human gut microbiome and your health
We will discuss major factors affecting the gut microbiome. We will also explore in detail what we currently know about diet, nutrition, health, and the gut microbiome. Key topics this week are:
* Impact of diet and age on the gut microbiota
* Obesity and the gut microbiota
* Human microbiome and gut disease
* Manipulating the microbiome through fecal transplants
Week 5: Gut microbe-host interactions: Beyond nutrition
We will talk about how the gut microbiome can affect your body outside of the gut, including interactions with the immune system and the brain. Key topics this week are:
* Gut microbiota interactions with the immune system
* Gut microbiota, autoimmune diseases, and allergies
* The gut-brain axis
* Post-mortem human microbiome
Week 6: What’s in the American Gut?
We will re-introduce the American Gut Project and describe results both at an individual and a population level. Key topics this week are:
* The American Gut Project and crowd-funding
* Collecting samples
* Michael Pollan vs. Jeff Leach: American Gut results explained
The first 6-week session starts next Monday, October 6 2014 and runs through November 14 2014. You can also sign up to be notified when the next session will begin. They say it will involve 3-5 hours of work/week.
If you take the course, please let me know how you like it. I’m super busy this fall so am going to wait until the next time it’s offered.