I never imagined I would be a biology teacher, but I’m over a decade in…
I love science. I love science so much that I am constantly obsessing about different ways that I can teach kids about cool science facts while still making sure I fit in the content. So today I thought I would take some time and share some of those fun facts about your microbiome and also some fantastic handwashing survey data.
Disclosure: I am partnering with Bradley Corp. All opinions are my own.
Sitting in my first microbiology course in college, I remember the professor writing up a “bug of the day” and being told that we would learn a fun fact each day about that “bug”. Those bugs she was referring to are often the microbiome that we have a symbiotic relationship with. Microbiomes are the bacteria, protists, fungi and viruses that naturally inhabit our body and work with your body to complete many biological processes.
Yes, bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses live in and on your body and are critical for your survival and health. You actually have about 10 times more microbe genetic material (DNA & RNA) than your own and that microbiome weighs around 4 lbs as well. When your microbiome is out of balance often your body is out of balance and you can have some major issues. These microscopic “bugs” are literally keeping you alive but will also break down your body in a heartbeat if things get out of balance!
Fun Facts About Your Microbiome
Did I freak you out yet? I love teaching this content to my students and watching them squirm a bit as I go through the in’s and out’s of what different microbes do and someday I plan to teach at the college level as an adjunct microbiology professor. I thought I would share some fun facts about your microbiome that you should absolutely use on a first date or as a conversation starter. I kid…but like, I also kind of want you to!
- Your Microbiome is Unique To You: It is like a fingerprint. No two microbiomes are exactly alike and it functions and adjusts as your body changes. You can also completely destroy your microbiome with overuse of antibiotics and change the course of your health permanently. This could be good or bad but should ALWAYS be monitored by a medical professional.
- Microbes are Essential to Digestion: Without your gut bacteria you would not be able to digest food. The microbes of your intestines help to break down your food and create many of the essential vitamins that your body requires to function. Vitamin K is the first that comes to mind and is critical for healing and even bone health.
- Your Skin is an Ecosystem: Ok technically your entire body is one, however, let’s just focus on the skin. Your skin is your body’s protective layer and on it live billions of microbes…and mites. If those microbes are not kept in a careful balance (just like any ecosystem) then you can easily have a skin disorder or infection.
- Mouths Are Always Full: Your mouth has more microbes in it than there are people in the world. We are talking over 7.8 billion in JUST YOUR MOUTH. Brush, floss, rinse, repeat folks. Also STOP sharing food and drinks.
- When You Die Your Microbes Eat You: Yes. Welcome to decomposition. Bacteria and fungi are after all decomposers and those little microbes are obligate organisms. The breakdown of your body partially causing rigor mortis is actually your bacteria breaking down the sugars in your body and fermenting you into lactic acid and stopping the rest of your body’s ions from moving freely. Bacteria are also the main reason your body bloats after death…they release a lot of gas that is just trapped everywhere.
I hope that these fun facts about your microbiome help you to realize the importance and outright cool little “germs” that you live with. Keep them healthy friends, we need them more than they need us.
Healthy Handwashing Survey Data
So we have established that your microbiome is essential (and awesome), but what happens when your own biome interacts with foreign microbes? Well sometimes nothing, sometimes infection and disease. Due to the fact that we cannot see what we are being exposed to, we never actually know until we have symptoms, however, we can help curb that with handwashing and general hygiene practices. Your hands come into contact most often with those foreign microbes especially in the bathroom. In fact when you flush the toilet the number of microbes on your skin DOUBLES!
This is why handwashing is essential to slowing and stopping the spread of harmful microbes. Bradley Corp – an international restroom equipment manufacturer – has recently released its yearly survey on Healthy Handwashing and the data is super interesting!
You can check out the entire survey results here, but what we can see in the infographics is that Americans are generally washing their hands more. The pandemic definitely played a huge part in that switch as we can see from the data. Pre-COVID people were washing but not as often and when you consider that most people use the bathroom more than 6 times a day this change to handwashing habits is good for everyone including your microbiome. As the pandemic wears on people are slipping in their handwashing somewhat – but we shouldn’t let down our guard.
One thing that I did not mention is that microbes thrive in wet, warm places and boy are those hands a great place to start their new colony. It was super cool to see that people are making sure to dry their hands more thoroughly as well to ward off those pesky viruses.