Which are
the next
walls to
fall?

How Microbiome Research Redefines Our Idea of Being Human

For the better part of the 20th century, we could be rather sure that being human meant that our bodies are made up of our own human cells, controlled by our own DNA, while our autonomous brains give rise to emotions and actions. But our solid self-image is slowly eroding: neuroscience has started to call the concept of free will into question, and the next paradigm shift is just around the corner. The world’s leading microbiome specialist Rob Knight, whose academic research is a hybrid of computer science, evolutionary biology, paediatrics and biochemistry, is currently expanding our idea of what it means to be human. Microbiome science shows us that our own human cells are outnumbered by tens of trillions of microbes that colonize our bodies on the inside and outside, forming communities of thousands of different species. Skin, mouth and gut microbes have been found to influence our lives in health and disease, and even our moods, in astonishing ways. These interactions extend beyond our bodies, and our interactions with microbes in our environments are also critical. By studying the effects of these highly individual and dynamic microbe populations on and around the human body, researchers hope to find new treatments for conditions like allergies, asthma and obesity. To gather samples for his work, Rob has founded a series of large scale research projects like the crowd-sourced citizen science project American Gut. Going far beyond humans, he sequences microbiome DNA from anything he can get his hands on – computer keyboards, plants, lizards, water and soils from all over the globe – with the ultimate goal of sampling the entire planet, and even beyond. At Falling Walls, Rob explains how this fascinating world of microbes opens up new windows for looking at the world and ourselves.

Rob Knight

University of California, San Diego

Rob Knight is one of the world’s leaders in the field of microbiome research which studies the communities of microbes – tiny single-cell organisms – which live in and around the human body and have an enormous influence on human health and disease. It is estimated that the microbes that exist in our gut, mouth and on our skin outnumber our own cells 10 to 1, and microbial colonies are made up of thousands of different species. By sequencing and studying individual microbiomes, Rob Knight and his colleagues trace the close interactions between microbes and humans.

More Breakthroughs

All Breakthroughs

Further Activities to have a look at

We use cookies and other technologies to collect data about your use of our site and about your browser, device and location. We process this data to help us understand how the site is used and to personalize our content and the advertising you see on this and other sites we also share this data with advertising, social media and analytics partners for the same purposes. By choosing “Accept All” you agree that we store cookies on your device and process the data for the aforementioned purposes . You may revoke your consent at any time by choosing the respective settings. For more information on the processing of personal data and what specific services we use see our Privacy Policy

Privacy Preference Center

We use cookies and other technologies to collect data about your use of our site and about your browser, device and location. We process this data to help us understand how the site is used and to personalize our content and the advertising you see on this and other sites we also share this data with advertising, social media and analytics partners for the same purposes. By choosing “Accept All” you agree that we store cookies on your device and process the data for the aforementioned purposes . You may revoke your consent at any time by choosing the respective settings. For more information on the processing of personal data and what specific services we use see our Privacy Policy

Necessary Cookies

These cookies are required to provide you with our site and its functions. Since storing these cookies is necessary for the provision of our site and its functions, you cannot disable them. If you block these cookies via you browser settings our site may not function properly.

Analyse Cookies

These cookies enable us to use website analytics in order to improve our site or provide you with personalized content. They may be set by us or by third party providers whose services we have added to our pages.

Marketing Cookies

These cookies enable us to use online marketing and advertising in order to provide you on this or on other sites with personalized advertisement. They may be set by us or by third party providers whose services we have added to our pages.