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Scientists Discover More About the Battle in Your Belly

March 8, 2016

Trillions of microscopic bacteria live inside our intestinal tract, forming an elaborate network now believed to play a major role in combating disease, affecting metabolism and weight and even regulating mood.

The bacteria swimming around in our stomachs have the power to help or harm us, depending on how we treat them, explained Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, a physician at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis and author of “Trust Your Gut,” a book about how to deal with digestive problems.

“The gut is much more of a garden than a gutter,” he said. “Our mission is to be good gardeners.”

But scientists have only begun to understand the complicated ecosystem in our stomachs. Like the human genome and the brain before it, new technology is allowing medical experts to look inside our guts like never before. The National Institutes of Health funded a $173 million project in 2008 to map the “human microbiome.”

The Human Genome Project was complicated — after a decade of work, scientists were able to identify all the genes present in humans. But the microbes in our intestines are much more complex. These tiny organisms have 100 times more genes than we do.

“They are an integral part of our body,” said Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota. “They do all kinds of things in physiology and we’re just starting to understand this.”

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