The Human Microbiome: Implications of the Microcosm Within Us

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 210AB (San Jose Convention Center)
The word “microcosm” in its philosophical origin was defined as “man as epitomizing the universe.” Science is revealing the biological truth of this definition through the discovery of 10–100 trillion microbiota cohabiting within the human body, indeed forming a universe unique to every single person. This remarkable recognition raises ethical and philosophical challenges. This symposium will present current research on the human microbiome and discuss the broader societal considerations. Global initiatives, such as the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project, are investigating the role of the microbiome in human health, such as obesity, autoimmune disorders, and mental health. The microbiome is an identifiable marker more defining than a fingerprint or the personal genome, revealing health status, disease predispositions, culture, and living environment. Therefore, the future management of genomic data presents an ethical dilemma regarding confidentiality and privacy: who “owns” the person’s microbiome? Perhaps even more challenging is the philosophical revolution spawned by microbiome research. As discoveries are introduced to the public, the idea that we are “outnumbered 10:1” by the other cohabitators of our body may challenge traditional concepts of self-identify. Therein, what does it mean to be “human”? This symposium will be a unique opportunity to review the current findings of the microbiome and appreciate its ethical and social impacts on future policy.
Se Y. Kim, AAAS Center for Science, Policy, and Society Programs
Jennifer Wiseman, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Mildred Cho, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics
Claire M. Fraser, University of Maryland
Genomics of the Microbiome
Nada Gligorov, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Am I “One” or “Many”? Philosophical Considerations of the Microbiome
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