One of the most ambitious and potentially world-changing areas of study in human biology is the attempt to understand how the microbiome of the human digestive system influences health and wellbeing. Once thought to play only a minor role in digestion, the trillions of bacteria found in our guts are now understood to affect, aid, and regulate dozens of functions. Although most of the data coming in is very new, and although there is still much to learn, scientists have reached the point where concrete information regarding the digestive microbiome is being used to help diagnose and treat certain conditions.
The digestive system is not the only part of the body that has its own complex and independent microbiome. In fact, one of the most important microbiomes in the human body is also one of the least understood. Inside the human nose, many bacterial species form interrelated and interdependent colonies. Because we can only assume that these bacteria co-evolved with the human species in a similar fashion as the bacteria found in the digestive microbiome, it stands to reason that the bacteria in our nose likely plays an important role in our health, much like the bacteria in our guts.
Unfortunately, such mysteries are as of yet unsolved. The limited studies that have been conducted thus far on the nasal microbiome have focused on merely cataloguing what bacteria can be found. The most interesting discover so far is the abundant presence of two pathobionts, S. pneumoniae and S. aureus.
A pathobiont is defined as a bacteria that can be either pathogenic or symbiotic; however, the alarming thing about Staphylococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus is that, when they are pathogenic, they can cause severe illness. How could it be that they live right within our noses, and what keeps us all from falling ill?
A recent study published by the American Society for Microbiology found that bacteria such as Corynebacterium accolens could be responsible for protecting the body against the potential pathogenic qualities of S. pneumoniae and S. aureus. It appears that the bacterial composition found within our noses forms a delicate balance that, in many cases, might allow us to harbor such pathobionts without any risk.
In the future, further study of these fascinating microbes could help us understand when and why this balance can be interrupted—and, perhaps, prevent illness while promoting better heatlh.