Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

I Am The 9%, and So Are You

I have always found the human body to be a fascinating thing. The number of intricate parts and abilities that we have as people continues to amaze scientists. We, as humans, are only beginning to understand our DNA and how we thrive as a species on this earth. There is one weird truth that emerges as we study our bodies closely. The cells within our bodies are only about 9% human, so what is the other 91%?

According to Carolyn Bohach, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho, there are ten times as many bacterial cells in our body than human cells. The human body is filled with these critters on our skin, stomach, guts, and every other imaginable location on our bodies. These bacteria tend to be considerably smaller than human cells, but they still serve a vital role in our survival.

One role bacteria play is in breaking down food. They allow us to eat less and still gain a large amount of energy from food. A study on lab rats showed that rats kept in germ-free environments had to eat about one-third more food to maintain a healthy body weight than the rats that had a normal amount of bacteria infestation.

Other bacteria play a vital role in improving our immune system. Several studies have shown that bacteria help to regulate our intestines and keep our digestive tract as a weapon against disease. It is safe to say that a digestive system filled with bacteria will get sick less often from foods than a digestive system that lacks bacteria.

Where exactly do all of these bacteria come from? It is hard to believe that the air around us and the food we eat bring this much foreign activity into our bodies. In actuality, the biggest source of our initial bacteria is our mothers.

Studies show that a large portion of breast milk is a microbial blast of bacteria. It is like an immune system booster shot made up of many foreign particles that work with the baby’s body to help it cope with the human world. This is the main reason why doctors tell mothers that are capable of breastfeeding to do so. They may call breast milk nutritious, which it is, but more importantly, it is filled with bacteria that adjust the child to the environment.

The next time you pull a Zuckerberg or a Gates and create a company that makes billions of dollars, remember to not only thank family and friends; give a shout out to the microbes partying inside you that keep you alive and well. Without this symbiotic relationship, our life spans would probably be vastly shorter.

All of this also makes me wonder why some humans tend to judge each other so much. We can complain all day long that we hate the way our enemies dress or the games they play, but take a second to realize what you are complaining about. Cell count wise, only 9% of the entity with whom you are in a dispute is truly human.  Paul Cohelo, a Brazilian author, once said, “We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.” Remember that the fellow bacteria-men and -women around you are in a similar journey trying to find their place in the world.

Join me next time as we continue to explore the weird wonders of our universe. From the vast monuments erected by mankind to the peculiar encounters of scientific phenomena, there is plenty around us to discover.

Aditya Rengaswamy is a sophomore accounting student at CWRU. He enjoys participating in various service projects, being a part of USG, and hanging out with his brothers in ΘX.

View Comments (2)

Comments (2)

In an effort to promote dialogue and the sharing of ideas, The Observer encourages members of the university community to respectfully voice their comments below. Comments that fail to meet the standards of respect and mutual tolerance will be removed as necessary.
All The Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • BenjaminSep 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    I think there is a misconception being construed here. While there may be 10x more bacterial cells in number than body cells, remember that bacteria are 100-250nm while human cells are along the lines of 10 micrometers. Human cells are 100x bigger than bacteria!

    • Aditya RengaswamySep 11, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Hey Ben,

      I never said by mass or size there are more bacterial cells. I was careful about my wording. Also, we have a large percentage of water in our bodies too- really didn’t go into that.

      But yes, you are right. This may have come off as bacteria are big and dominate human cells and that was not my intention, but at the same time I still believe that we sometimes don’t give credit to the bacterial critters that play an integral part in our lives. We just think of them as “disease” sometimes.