Scott Peterson, Ph.D. is a little different than most biomedical researchers. He doesn’t just want to know what goes wrong when we get sick—he’d rather know what makes us healthy. More specifically, he wants to know how the trillions of microbes—bacteria, mostly—that live on our skin, in our mouths, and in our guts help keep us that way.
“In my view, we don’t always have to think about treating disease with drugs. We should also be mining the human microbiome for therapeutic compounds—things akin to vitamins and herbs—that can keep us from getting sick in the first place,” says Peterson, who joined Sanford-Burnham’s faculty in August 2012, as a professor in our Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center.
The human body is made up of roughly 100 trillion cells. But only a fraction of those cells are actually human—the rest are bacteria and other microorganisms. This diverse group of microbes along for the ride is known collectively as our microbiome. We and our microbiomes co-evolved to live like this, in a mutually beneficial balance. We provide our microbes with a home and food while they help protect us from other, more menacing, bacteria, viruses, and parasites.