The human body contains more bacterial cells than human cells. Weird, right?
The majority of the cells that constitute “you” are, in fact, not human. They are microscopic organisms that are hitching a ride, making a living off your body. It might sound like science fiction, but this is a confirmed scientific fact. The human body contains ten times more bacterial cells than human cells.
How can we contain more bacterial cells than human cells?
Now, before we allow our imagination to scare us into a frenzy, let’s unpack this a bit.
These bacterial cells, collectively known as the human microbiota, live mostly in harmony with our bodies. We provide them with a suitable habitat, and they return the favor by aiding in bodily functions like digestion and immune response. Our gut houses the vast majority of these organisms.
This raises some provocative questions: With our bodies being made up predominantly of non-human cells, what does that imply about our identity? What actually makes us human?
How are we fully human if we contain so many non-human cells?
Biologically speaking, being human is about more than just the number of cells. Human cells, while fewer in number, are much larger and more complex than bacterial cells. So, in terms of volume and genetic material, we are predominantly human.
But the philosophical implications are still fascinating to consider. We ten to link our human identity to our biological makeup. But the massive presence of non-human cells introduces an intriguing paradox.
Science has often categorized organisms based on their cellular composition. However, this fact might prompt us to reconsider such traditional boundaries. We need to acknowledge the complex symbiosis that constitutes our “self.” We are, in essence, a walking, talking microbiome.
Teamwork makes the dream work
These non-human inhabitants of our body have a far-reaching impact on our health and well-being. There’s a dynamic relationship between our human cells and these bacterial cells. When this relationship is in balance, we thrive. But when it’s out of whack, we may face health issues. This fact has driven researchers to explore the potential of microbiota in shaping future treatments for various diseases.
Yet, as we learn more about our microbial inhabitants, we also uncover deeper layers of what it means to be human. Are we individual entities, or are we, as some philosophers might argue, a “superorganism” made up of numerous symbiotic relationships?
Indeed, we might be more ‘alien’ than we ever imagined, yet this very fact underscores our extraordinary complexity as living beings.
So next time you glance at your reflection, remember: You’re not just looking at ‘you.’ You’re seeing an intricate ecosystem.