The microbiome and the medecine of the future, an analogy with Permaculture


Microbiome paradigm in science Ecosystems handling in Permaculture
The set of microbes inside our body is called the “microbiome”, it includes bacteria, archaea (primitive single-celled organisms), fungi, some protozoans and viruses.  Every ecosystems has developed a very specific biodiversity depending on its environment and include a multitude of biotic (plants, animals and microorganisms) and abiotic elements.
There are 10 times as many of these microorganisms as human cells inside us. Furthermore part of human cells cannot even be considered as living organisms (red blood cells). The volume of the microbiome put together is roughly equivalent to the volume of a human brain.  The complexity of physical, biological and chemical interactions in a humus substrate associated to a living soil ecosystem (fungi, bacteria, soil food web) providing nutrients to a plants is far from being known.
 The human microbiome is a source of genetic diversity and laboratories have reported a catalog of 3.3 million non-redundant genes in the human gut microbiome alone, as compared to the approximate 22,000 genes present in the entire human genome. The diversity among the microbiome of individuals is immense compared to human genomic
variation. If individuals are 99.9% identical genomically,  there hand or gut microbiome can be 80 to 90% different from one another. The microbiome is a signature that could replace fingerprints in human identification. A study done at the University of Cambridge, shows that 145 of the genes in the human genome are bacteria genes that have used a process known as horizontal gene transfer to fusion into human DNA over the course of evolution. Some microbiome between women and men have different specificity and babies born quasi exempt of microbiome inherit some of the microbiome of their mother during childbirth (raising concerns about the generalization of cesarean operations, preventing the beneficial propagation) and in the various steps of our life.
 The number of synergistic properties in the relationships between an ecosystem and a plant is innumerable and unknown, and the ecosystem metagenome at the genesis of these relationships is a scale factor up to the genome of a specific plant. This includes co-evolution symbiotic properties, generic exchanges based on plant categories and common ground biological mechanisms.
 The microbiome is a controller of disease, an essential component of immunity, and a functional entity, referred to as an “additional organ” by biologists, which influences our metabolism and modulates drug interactions. Researches, still in their infancy, show that the microbiome participate to digestion, immune system regulation, disease prevention, wound healing, obesity and appetite control, brain development, and emotions. The functional deficiency of our microbiome can play a role in depression, autism, allergies, neuron degenerative related diseases (e.g. Parkinson), asthma, obesity, and anxiety. For example a greater microbiome biodiversity is linked to lower allergies.  Biodiversity is the motor of the resilience of an ecosystem and key in the mechanisms of regeneration. By enhancing the number of interactions and the scope of nutrients available for plants and animals (like done in Permaculture) we ensure the stability of the ecosystem through all sort of mechanisms; weather control (carbon sequestration, humidity control), nutrient recycling and soil availability, disease control, plague control. A greater ecosystem biodiversity is linked to food production increase.
 The microbiome is not an independent organ, “magically” in charge of various functions, but instead is entirely integrated to our physiology and has evolved with humans for hundreds of thousands of years. A very illustrative example suggested by new studies shows that about 10% of every woman’s breast milk contains complex carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the infant but which fortify its microbiome, a prove of the intimate co-evolution we have had with these microorganisms.  An ecosystem is not an “alternative” context just in charge o environmental services (clean air and water, food, regulated weather, …), but instead a substrate where all forms of life find genesis and habitat and which has evolved concomitantly with the food we ingest and excrete. An illustrative example is the fact that industrial food, cut from most of ecosystems interactions has lost more than 60% of its nutrients, which would have been used for the energy they provide and the complex bio-chemistry they would have helped to produce in our body.
 The microbiome is a land still to be discovered and biologist have now the scanning and computer tools to decipher part of its complexity. The analysis of this new systemic set of data infers a limitless field of researches over the positive and negative impacts of the microbiome on the human body. Biologist think microbiome will be the key to the medicine of the future, considering its potential and its interaction with human physiology. Some stunning medical experiences have already taken place like the transplantation of microbiome extracts, with amazing results.  Permaculture is a domain of agroecology still in its infancy and rely on a non yet determined number of ecosystems properties and potentialities for food and habitat production.

Some systemic principles apply in the architecture of Permacultural “bio-landscape” and the amount of data available in order to optimize production is growing fast, but a mature science of Permaculture will need time to be able to finely monitor agroecological ecosystems toward optimal biodiversity, resilience and quality food and habitat production.

Permaculture and microbiome based science and medicine have that in common to push the frontier of our integrity; who we are, and enlarge our physical and ethical envelop to a coevolutive environment.

To substantiate and open the perspective here are some factors to consider;

  • An antibiotic is an “atomic bomb” for the microbiome, it kills bacteria without really discerning the good and bad guys.
  • Scientific research does not create new antibiotics, it tests the effect of natural molecules, therefore we are in a biomimicry approach more than a purely technological approach. Here there is a strong analogy with Permaculture where we do not give priority to new technology at first but prefer to integrate current know how from nature then in a second step add  technology to the natural cycles or let’s say integrate technology in a hybrid platform.
  • Antibiotics have been developed along history by the “West”, whereas a new segment of research ; the phages, or bacteriophages, which are viruses which have been studied by the “communist block”, creating an ideological split in medicine research. The phages have 2 particularities ; if antibiotics are mass destruction weapons phages are more like drones, having the capability to attack specific targets (bacteria.) This potential is now under focus in the west in the battle again resistant bacteria which are pointed as the main cause of mortality in the future by the OMS. The second particularity is that phages are not able to pass through biological membranes and need to be artificially transported to the cradle of disease in the body. Once again we may see here a relationship with Permaculture which uses human technology to enhance biological cycles by creating hybrid cycles.

One thought on “The microbiome and the medecine of the future, an analogy with Permaculture”

  1. I have heard that putting saliva on a seed would help create a plant easier to digest. At first I received this information with doubts but I’m ready now to reconsider my position having read about microbiome interactions in our ecosystem.


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