You’re completely covered in bacteria! But it’s fine because we all are.
We’re covered inside and out with bacteria and microbes. We are actually a very important part of their ecosystem. All of these microbes serve special purposes. They help us digest and process certain foods as well as fight off mental disorders like depression. They have even been linked to both causing and helping anxiety and autism. It’s called your microbiome and the more research that scientists do, the more they realize it has a lot to do with what makes you…you! We have 10x more bacteria in our guts and on our bodies than we do actual cells. We have 2-5 pounds of bacteria on us and in us at any given moment. Because it’s bacteria, living and changing, it causes changes in us. For example, people who have been vegetarians for a few years may not have any bacteria in their gut that can digest meat because it eventually dies out. But, just like any other kind of bacteria, vegetarians can get these bacteria back from other people. We’re constantly exchanging germs and microbes with other people in our environment. Everyone and everything we come into contact with is potentially changing who we are.
Genetically, all of us are 99% the same because we share that much common DNA. Our microbiomes are only 50% similar, but the more time we spend with someone, the more of these bacteria we share. Families living in the same house, using the same things, and in constant physical contact will naturally share their microbiomes with each other. If you have a pet, you actually share even more bacteria with them and then the pets pass them along to other family members. Tummy rubs are a powerful thing!
How much of your personality is you and how much of it comes from your microbiome? When family members tend to act alike, is it from socialization or is it from the sharing of bacteria? We don’t know how strong the connection is yet, but some scientists believe that it’s pretty big. They think introducing strains of bacteria into someone (in the form of a pill) could help with everything from eating disorders to depression, without messing heavily with body chemistry like current medications do. There are multiple projects going on right now to sequence the microbiome, just like we sequenced DNA over the last 10 years. Who knows what we will discover in another 10 years!