Rodney Dietert, an award-winning researcher and professor of immunotoxicology at Cornell University, will be in Rochester on Wednesday, August 3, to promote his new book, "The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life."
"The Human Superorganism" delves into biological history, urging its audience to reconsider the human being, and Dietert explores how our ancestors' health was supported by microorganisms, and cites other superorganisms that survive through symbiosis, such as coral reefs.
It's easy to forget in the commotion of daily life that our bodies are universes unto themselves. (Some may not want to dwell on that thought.) The fact that we are crawling, inside and out, with microbes -- microscopic fungus, parasites, bacteria, and viruses -- induces a knee-jerk shudder in many, and germaphobia at the extreme end of things.
Science tells us that as much as 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are not ours, but belong to these other creatures, some of which live in symbiosis with our systems, others carefully kept in check by our bodies' complex defenses.
Chatter about the microbiome has reached mainstream culture by way of diet trends -- with an emphasis on the gut biome -- that promote balance in our microbiology. We've heard that treating illness with antibiotics has also disrupted the work of good bacteria, like Lactobacillus acidophilus. And recently, the White House launched the National Microbiome Initiative, aiming to advance our understanding of the field and develop useful applications in healthcare, food production, and environmental restoration.
Confronting the 21st century medial landscape, Dietert acknowledges that scientific discoveries have reduced infant mortality and lengthened lifespans, but he also addresses "two fatefully mistaken fundamental concepts" -- that humans are better off as pure organisms free of microbes, and that the human (mammalian genome) is the most important biological factor in creating a better future for humans.
He argues that in reducing the microbes' power, we have "sparked an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases" including asthma, autism, Alzheimer's, allergies, autoimmune conditions, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression, "which now accounts for 63 percent of all human deaths."
In the book's final section, "Caring for Yourself," Dietert praises the complex biological wonders involved in the smelly, imperfect human being, and asserts that integrated medical therapies -- a systems-biology, holistic approach to health -- are the way forward. The "Superorganism Makeover" segment takes on a FAQ format, giving thorough answers to the many queries surrounding "rebiosis," which aims to bring our bodies back into balance. The end result, he says, can reduce ailment and redirect our food cravings to healthier selections. It's a cycle that keeps on giving.
Kirkus Reviews has called Dietert's work "a book in which the author's fascinating, well-researched ideas regarding holistic health may presage a paradigm shift in medicine."
Dietert will discuss his book at the Pittsford Barnes and Noble (3349 Monroe Avenue) on Wednesday, August 3, at 7 p.m. The event is free to attend. For more information, visit rodneydietert.com or call 586-6020.