The microbiota: an unknown land

I am going to talk to you about the microbiota, presenting it as I have often imagined it.

I imagine an entire continent, with a long shape, completely covered in thick vegetation with an entire ecosystem made up of plants and animals. Seen from the sky, the forest that covers the earth seems homogeneous but, if we get closer, the plants that compose it are very varied in size, shape and color.

Similarly, the animals that inhabit it belong to different species (insects, mammals, etc.) which live, feed, interact and move differently. As the continent has this shape, the climate varies depending on the area observed, which has a direct impact on the composition of the ecosystem (plants and animals).

In the same way, the quality of the soil, a basic nutritional substrate for the entire ecosystem, will have an important influence on the growth of the different plant species and, therefore, animals. As in any ecosystem, the living species present are interdependent. For example, animals are fed by the fruits of trees but also ensure the dissemination of seeds thanks to their excrements; insects need the nectar of flowers but foraging plays a fundamental role in pollination…

Finally, we observe that the balance that exists is the result of a complex regulation mechanisms of the population, particularly in its growth and proportion within the different food chains.

Of course, this continent (the land, the plants, the animals and even the different climates that reign there) can be partially or totally bothered by external factors such as the arrival of new populations, air or water pollution, climate change, an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, etc. Depending on the importance of the “disturbing” event, the continent will be modified for a short period as the adaptation and compensation resources of a competent ecosystem can deal with withstanding strong limitations during a rapid return to normality or for a longer period that can even last forever.

In these circumstances, “rescue” actions can be useful and sometimes even essential to help the continent and its ecosystem to recover the lost balance.

These interventions must meet the following conditions:

  • occur in the right place (where they are useful)
  • act in such a way as to mimic existing natural systems as much as possible
  • not intervene to the detriment of the weakest and most fragile components of the ecosystem
  • in the event that the intervention is for the benefit of a single component of the ecosystem, make sure that there are no future secondary effects (try to think long term)

So, we have just described the microbiota (the ecosystem) as a whole:

– the continent is the intestine (the colon to be exact)

– the soil in which everything grows is the intestinal mucosa

– climate corresponds to pH but also to peristalsis and other environmental parameters that can be found in the intestines

– the different species of plants and animals are the various fungal, bacterial and even viral colonies that make up the intestinal flora

– the balance between all species is what is called eubiosis

–unfortunately, there are countless of “disturbing” events from the “simple” consumption of food supplements to chemotherapy, from food poisoning to digestive surgeries, through all metabolic and infectious diseases

– the loss of balance, the “disorder” of the ecosystem is called “dysbiosis”* and it is associated to some consequences

*here we understand that it is better to speak of dysbiosis in the plural because there are so many disruptive events

– “rescue” interventions are the different tools we have to try to combat dysbiosis and restore eubiosis

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