Student’s Corner

Our Poor Microbiome: Our Sterile Obsessed Culture

Our strides towards modernity and progress through urbanization and industrialization may have come at the cost of the things that have helped us survive for so long: microbes. Take a walk around campus and you’ll notice the intense sterilization culture. Carts of harsh chemicals being pushed around our dorms, libraries and classrooms, white and sterile-looking decoration of our spaces (some might say Starbucks reflects this), hand-sanitizers at door entrances, boasting about killing 99.9% of germs. But what is this information if it lacks any context? 99.9% of germs? But… what if that is killing the bacteria that is actually helpful to us? And not to mention, what are these chemicals doing to the environment? If they are killing the bacteria on our hands, they can be killing other organisms on our Earth. 

Now, Michael Pollan is no saint with all the answers, he has his issues, but I can’t help myself from enjoying his book, “Cooked” in which he explains how the development of our sterile obsession could be completely changing the complex system of microbes on and in our bodies. He refers to our bodies and our microbiome as a symbiotic community. We both need each other to survive. Yet we view our relationship with bacteria as us against them, constantly trying to rid ourselves of them through these sanitizers and antibiotics. Are our bodies losing their ability to defend themselves and thrive because we’re killing the very things that support us?

Of course it’s not that black and white and probably never will be. Sterilization and good cleaning habits do keep us safe from infections and diseases. And our microbiome does change with what we put in and on our bodies. But there seems to not be enough research to navigate the complexity of this problem. In what ways can we use natural processes, like fermenting our food and eating healthy food, to help this community of organisms on our body grow and help us grow?

“Though we’ve tended to think of bacteria as agents of destruction, they are invaluable creators as well” (Michael Pollan – Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation)


Written by Olivia Giovannini-Dolan, Class of 2020

Art credit in photo: Christina Krewson, Class of 2021


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