Microbes are ubiquitous and vital to humans:
they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease,
break down our food, educate our immune
systems, guide our behavior, bombard our
genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities.
Much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome
focuses on its implications for human health, yet when we
look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even
the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air.
Last November, acclaimed science journalist Ed Yong
discussed the hidden worlds of microbes, how they
influence our lives, and how we might reshape them to
improve our health during the fourth annual Microbiome
Symposium, presented by Penn Vet’s Center for Host-
Microbial Interactions (CHMI), the Perelman School of
Medicine, and the PennCHOP Microbiome Program.
The two-day symposium began with Yong’s talk,
“I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and
a Grander View of Life,” at Penn Vet’s Hill Pavilion.
Author of The New York Times best-selling book I Contain
Multitudes, Yong reports for The Atlantic and has contributed
to National Geographic, The New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New
Scientist, and Scientific American, among other magazines.
He has won a variety of awards, including the Michael E.
DeBakey Journalism Award for biomedical reporting in
2016, the Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the
Public Communication of Life Sciences in 2016, and the
National Academies Keck Science Communication Award
in 2010 for his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. His TED talk
on mind-controlling parasites has been watched by more
than 1.5 million people.
Speakers at the symposium also included Dr. Grace
Aldrovandi, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious
Diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles; Dr.
Laurie Comstock, Associate Microbiologist at Brigham and
Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine
at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Gabriel Nunez,
Co-Director of the Immunology & Host Response
Program in the Department of Pathology, University
of Michigan; Dr. Manuela Raffatellu, Professor in
the Department of Pediatrics at the University of
California, San Diego; and Dr. Cynthia Sears, Professor
of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.
The CHMI is designed to facilitate collaborative
projects that leverage genomics to study the intersection
of microbes and disease. In doing so, researchers gain
insight into how bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other
organisms interact with their animal and human hosts in
ways that either maintain health or lead to disease.