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Friday, June 02, 2006

Gene experts say we are not entirely human - By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - We may not be entirely human, gene experts said on Thursday after studying the DNA of hundreds of different kinds of bacteria in the human gut.
 
Bacteria are so important to key functions such as digestion and the immune system that we may be truly symbiotic organisms -- relying on one another for life itself, the scientists write in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
 
Their findings suggest that studying bacteria native to our bodies may provide important clues to disease, nutrition, obesity and how well drugs will work in individuals, said the team at The Institute for Genomic Research, commonly known as TIGR, in Maryland.
 
"We are somehow like an amalgam, a mix of bacteria and human cells. There are some estimates that say 90 percent of the cells on our body are actually bacteria," Steven Gill, a molecular biologist formerly at TIGR and now at the State University of New York in Buffalo, said in a telephone interview.
 
"We're entirely dependent on this microbial population for our well-being. A shift within this population, often leading to the absence or presence of beneficial microbes, can trigger defects in metabolism and development of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease."
 
Scientists have long known that at least 50 percent of human faeces, and often more, is made up of bacteria from the gut. Bacteria start to colonise the intestines and colon shortly after birth, and adults carry up to 100 trillion microbes, representing more than 1,000 different species.
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