“Every single one of you has 100 trillion bacterial cells on you, and those 100 trillion cells are found all over your body.”
That’s probably not the most comforting message to hear as you’re sitting down to dinner, but as Jack Gilbert reassured the crowd assembled at the University of Chicago Medicine Discovery & Impact event last Wednesday evening, these bacteria play a vital role in our health and well-being.
“We’re fundamentally built to live with these guys. We’ve been evolving with them for 5 million years, and we’ve built up these wonderful intricate relationships with them,” he said. The event, hosted by Karen and Jim Frank, president and CEO of Wheels Inc., at the JW Marriott in Chicago, brought attendees together with physicians, scientists and researchers from the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences Division who are studying the microbiome and how it affects human health and disease.
Gilbert, assistant professor of ecology & evolution at the University of Chicago and environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, gave the opening remarks, then attendees participated in a series of breakout sessions with UChicago experts focused on every aspect of how the microbiome affects our health, from how our diets and lifestyles can change the bacterial ecosystems within our bodies, to the impact of widespread use of antibiotics and the explosion of food allergies and autoimmune diseases.
It was an extraordinary gathering of some of the nation’s leading experts working toward a better understanding of how those 100 trillion cells shape our lives, experts who all happen to be working at the University of Chicago. As Gilbert put it, “They’re all gathered here. We have the computational power. We have the expertise, and we have the ability to do this.”
All photos by Jason Smith