Even Captain America Needs a Robust Microbiome

 Captain America and Agent Carter exchanging microbiomes

Captain America and Agent Carter exchanging microbiomes

I can't count how many times people ask me about what the "germiest" place in a home, car, or gym is. What I think such a question overlooks are several basic facts about the planet:

  1. We live in a world dominated, in terms of biomass, by microbes.
  2. Our own bodies, soon after birth, are colonized with so much bacteria that eventually bacterial cells come to outnumber human cells.
  3. The majority of bacteria do not do us harm or damage our bodies.
  4. Our native bacterial species, our microbiome, is essential for life. Not only do bacteria perform vital functions for us, such as vitamin K synthesis, they also crowd out and serve as a barrier for potentially harmful bacteria. 

Given these facts one should view any desire for ultra-sterility in daily life (obviously sterility is needed in operating rooms and hygiene when preparing food) as misguided and potentially harmful. However this realization came to be fully appreciated rather recently in light of growing interest in the microbiome and the consequences of its disruption as well as the hygiene hypothesis

So, it wasn't surprising to see Marvel's Agent Carter, a Captain America-related television series set in the 1940s, warn of the danger of acquiring a bacterial infection from a public phone. Though a public phone--when you can find one--is likely laden with bacteria, unless one has abrasions and lacerations on the face, it poses no more risk than playing a game in an arcade. 

So if a baby's pacifier falls on the floor, don't rush to have it autoclaved (of course if it falls in horse manure, that's a different issue); if you have an abrasion, put a Band-Aid on it; and don't abuse antimicrobial hand-sanitzers. 

A robust microbiome is important for everyone, even Captain America.