At this year's EMBL-EBI Science and Society event at Anglia Ruskin University we explore the impact of gut bacteria on human health. Bacteria are everywhere, they surround us in the environment, they permeate our skin and they live inside us. Their presence and that of other microorganisms on us and within us can strongly influence our wellbeing for better or worse. At this event, an evening of talks and lively discussion will be led by experts in the field: Paul O'Toole, Simon Carding and Emma Allen-Vercoe.
The speakers will introduce the concept of the 'microbiome' and explore the complex relationship between humans and our gut bacteria, address the possible applications for altering our gut microbiome and exchange ideas about the social and ethical implications of these changes.
Our microbiome, the bacterial communities living alongside us, has now been linked to a range of processes and pathologies, including ageing, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even depression. Even the very first groups of bacteria you encounter at birth can have a long-lasting impact on your health. These observations have sparked renewed efforts to characterise these microbial communities in different ways. An improved understanding of the microbiome will hopefully enable individuals to modify their lifestyles and improve their wellbeing. In addition to probiotics, methods of directly engineering the microbiome are also being developed. Faecal transplants for example transfer microbes from a healthy individual to an unhealthy one, and the burgeoning field of synthetic biology may also be applied one day to genetically optimise gut bacteria from scratch.
While it has promise for transforming our lives, there is a clear and immediate need to identify the biomedical and ethical implications of modifying our microbiome. How can we control the impact our microbiome has on our health? How do we balance possible benefits against the potential risks? By artificially altering our bacterial composition, are we absolving people of their responsibility to live healthily? Will microbiome engineering be affordable to all in society? At Gut Feeling: how bacteria influence our wellbeing, we will explore these and many other issues and highlight the important role our gut microbiome holds in our lives.