The Atlantic

Treating Disease by Nudging the Microbes Inside Us

We’ve spent centuries trying to kill bacteria. Now, scientists have shown that subtler approaches can work—at least in mice.
Source: Eric Erbe, USDA

In the final decades of the 19th century, scientists showed in rapid succession that many of the worst diseases to afflict humanity were the work of bacteria—germs. Leprosy, gonorrhea, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, cholera, dysentery: Barely a year went by without assigning an infamous illness to a newly identified microbe. This concept, where one germ causes one disease, has influenced the way we think about infections ever since, and it implies an obvious solution: Remove the bug, and cure the sickness.

But the links between microbes and poor health can be more complicated. Our bodies are naturally home to

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min read
A Polarized City, Mirrored in Its Diaspora
Hong Kong’s protests have pitted relatives and friends against one another, including those who no longer live in the city.
The Atlantic5 min readSociety
A Strange New Culprit Behind Eating Disorders
Common infections such as strep throat might have a mysterious link to anorexia and bulimia.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
No One Knows International Law’s Failures Better Than the Rohingya
Grandiose talk of worldwide relief and justice has been accompanied by little to no action. Now the group’s options are narrowing.