When you think of bacteria, infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance might come to mind. But bacteria can be helpful, too — the microbes found naturally on and in our bodies (our microbiota) actually help us stay healthy.
Researchers now believe not only that it's beneficial to your health to have a wide range of bacteria in your microbiota, but that people in urban areas have less diverse microbiota than people living in remote parts of the world. So as remote areas become urbanized, we risk losing access to many of the beneficial germs that once called the human body home.
To ensure we have access to as many of these "beneficial germs" as possible for as long as possible, a team led by Rutgers University–New Brunswick researchers is now calling for the creation of a global microbiota vault.
The best way to preserve the diverse microbes that live in and on our bodies so that researchers can study it? To store a sample of every germ collected from the human microbiota in one ultra-secure location, write the authors of a proposal published Thursday in Science.
"The collection should be really isolated, in the coldest possible and the most autonomous [place] possible, so if a major disaster happens, the collection can survive," proposal author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello told NPR.
The researchers claim this germ bank would be conceptually similar to the Global Seed Vault, which contains seeds from all across the globe to ensure continued plant diversity in the event of a global catastrophe.
Building a comparable "Noah's Ark" for the human microbiota will require international collaboration and significant funding, but the effort would be worthwhile, the researchers believe.
"We owe future generations the microbes that colonized our ancestors for at least 200,000 years of human evolution," they write in their proposal. "We must begin before it is too late."
READ MORE: A Frozen Idea to Save Helpful Germs from Disasters [NPR]
More on microbiota: This MIT Spinout Plans to Program Synthetic Bacteria and Microbiota to Cure Metabolic Disorders