Probiotics, the intestinal microbiome and the quest for long life

Recycling Metchnikoff: Probiotics, the intestinal
microbiome and the quest for long life

Philip A. Mackowiak1,2*
1 Medical Care Clinical Center, VA Maryland Health Care System, Baltimore, MD, USA
2 Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA
Edited by:
Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis,
University of Athens Medical School, Greece
Reviewed by: Mattias Collin, Lund University, Sweden
Katerina Kotzampassi, University of Thessaloniki, Greece
*Correspondence:
Philip A. Mackowiak, VA Medical
Center, Medical Service-111, 10 North
Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
e-mail: philip.mackowiak@va.gov

Over a century ago, Elie Metchnikoff theorized that health could be enhanced and senility
delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found
in yogurt. His theory flourished for a time, then drifted to the fringe of medical practice
before re-emerging in the mid-1990s as a conceptworthy of mainstream medical attention.
Metchnikoff also predicted the existence of bacterial translocation and anticipated theories
linking chronic inflammation with the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and other disorders
of the aged.

“The promise of microbiome research results largely on the
future of probiotics: : :. Eventually, it may become possible to
restore the health of a depleted microbiome simply by swallowing
a capsule crammed with billions of bacterial cells, or
by eating yogurt (1).”
Although Michael Specter implied otherwise in his article in The
NewYorker (1), neither microbiome research nor the use of probiotics
to promote health is new.Over a century ago, Ilya Ilyich (Élie)
Metchnikoff (Figure 1) theorized that health could be enhanced,
and also that senility could be delayed, by manipulating the intestinal
microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yogurt (2).
His theory flourished for a time, then drifted to the fringe of medical
practice, only to re-emerge in the mid-1990s as a concept
worthy of mainstream medical attention. Today probiotics are not
only the subject of intense medical research but also the source of a
multi-billion dollar global industry (3). The microbiome now has
a N.I.H.-funded Human-Microbiome Project1, as well as a new
peer-reviewed journal devoted to it exclusively2.
Metchnikoff ’s concepts laid the foundation for fecal transplantation,
predicted the existence of bacterial translocation from the
intestinal lumen into the bloodstream and lymphatic system, and
anticipated theories linking chronic inflammation with the pathogenesis
of atherosclerosis (2). His concepts have also been invoked
in modern times by fringe groups, such as the medical ecologists,
attributing a host of chronic disabilities to intestinal proliferation
of Candida sp. (4).
ElieMetchnikoff was born onMay 3, 1845 near Kharkow, Russia
(now part of Ukraine). He studied at the university there from
1862 to 1864 before traveling to Germany where he trained in
comparative anatomy at universities in Giessen, Gottingen and
Munich. In 1870 he accepted a professorship at the University of
Odessa, worked there for 12 years, and then resigned his post to
begin an odyssey that took him from Madeira to Teneriffe to the
Volga. It was during these wandering years that he published his
opus magnum, “Intracellular Digestion in Invertebrate Animals,”
in Arberten of the Zoological Institute of Vienna…

View the full article in PDF.

Keywords: Metchnikoff, microbiome, Lactobacilli, phagocytes, senility


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