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Changing how we think about germs

A medico-technical assistant examining cells under a microscope.
A medico-technical assistant examining cells under a microscope.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images

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Most of us have grown up thinking that germs are disgusting. Antibacterial soaps, sprays and detergents have tried to eliminate germs and microbes from our daily lives. But now scientists are starting to convince people that the 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit the human body are actually beneficial. The success of new treatments called fecal transplants and the new citizen-science initiative, the American Gut Project, are highlighting the importance of germs to our health and well being.

Why do germs make us so squeamish? What’s the latest research into the helpful side of germs? Why have they gone from something we want to kill at all costs to something we want to protect and preserve? How can ‘germ management’ affect our health?  


Rob Knight, biochemist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and lead researcher for the American Gut project