The Human Microbiota and the Mind – Abstract

From birth, every human begins forming their microbiota, the collection of microorganisms living within the body. Each individual’s community of microorganisms is unique in species diversity and abundance. While scientists have long been aware of microbiota, we have only recently begun to understand its crucial role in human health and disease.The human microbiome is a budding subject of scientific research, with efforts such as the National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project (to sequence the entire microbiota genome) still underway. An area of even less scientific knowledge is the connection between microbiology and psychology (how microbes influence personality, behavior, and psychological conditions).

Through my research, I intend to explore the relationship between the human microbiota and the development of neurological disorders (disorders of the brain and nervous system). My research project will focus on how dysbiosis, an imbalance in microbiome composition, severely impacts neurological development and can contribute to neuro-psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. I will synthesize scientific research from a variety of sources (including The Good Gut, by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg and Missing Microbes, by Martin J. Blaser MD) in order to write a 5-8 page literature review exploring the link between these two areas of health science. My literature review will include an overview of the microbiota (including how technological advancements have allowed us to sequence the microbiome); research linking the microbiota to the mind; the microbiome and development of psychological disorders such as schizophrenia/OCD; and future implications of this research for medicine and public health (including treatments for psychological disorders).

The field of neuroscience research is continuously expanding, and it is crucial that scientists continue to study the microbiota in order to better understand the brain and nervous system. As we continue to develop new technology that can further our understanding of human physiology, research into the microbiome has great implications for public health and medicine. On an individual level, this research could inspire changes in diet and lifestyle to help humans minimize the development of psychological problems or disease. On a much larger scale, determining what factors affects the formation of the microbiome and contribute to dysbiosis may lead to widespread changes in medical practices. In the words of the former National Institute of Mental Health director, Dr. Thomas Insel, “how these differences in our microbial world influence the development of brain and behavior will be one of the great frontiers of clinical neuroscience in the next decade.”