Mental health and its possible relation to the microbiome is a controversial topic in today’s news. Here’s new research suggesting that schizophrenia may be linked to the oropharyngeal microbiome, as the study found “high-level differences” in bacteria of people diagnosed with the disorder and of those without. If true, this could add insight into the question of what effects our colonization by microscopic workers–genes or environment? While we don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia, the general theory is that there are certain genes that increase the risk for it by altering brain chemistry — we say it “runs in the family.” For instance, we know that an identical twin is more likely to get it if their twin has it too. But genetics don’t always explain whether or not someone gets the disorder; environmental factors seem to come in to play, too.
If brain disorders like schizophrenia can so strongly affect a body’s chemical environment that they influence the microbes living in it, how can this tell us about how different microbes are attracted to and hosted by that body? Sure, maybe there is no clear cause-and-effect case here, but how much do we know about how different chemical environments, within and outside our bodies, provide for novel community structures?
(Built environment addendum: People used to think that crowded, urban environments increased the risk of developing schizophrenia, but that’s not really clear anymore. What if it isn’t so much the density of people inhabiting a place that is the additional environmental factor here, but the bacteria that our buildings cultivate? If so, how can we design for that? Refutations welcome.)
A holobiont: One for all, and all for one!