The ability of certain microbes to confer health benefits on their host was recognized more than 100 years ago. In 1904, Elie Metchnikoff, a scientist at the Pasteur Institute, claimed that Bulgarian peasants lived longer by eating yogurt made from bacteria that served to ferment the milk. Parisians rushed out to buy yogurt in response.
However, the huge variety of bacteria living on the planet was not appreciated back then. More recently, the development of technology that identifies organisms from their DNA has allowed scientists to show that plants, animals, insects and humans can be hosts for many different types of microorganisms.
This has fostered the term “microbiome” as studies have uncovered the range of organisms present throughout the human body and their association with many diseases — from cardiovascular and digestive diseases to anxiety, allergies and infection.
Recognition of the roles that microbes play has led to the purposeful development of microbes (probiotics) that aim to restore and maintain health in humans and other life forms.
From babies to honey bees
One research group discovered that some strains of probiotic lactobacilli can be used instead of antibiotics to treat women with infectious mastitis.