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Dr. Rob Knight is an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder, and an assistant professor in the Computational Biosciences Program at the University of Colorado Denver. Brendan Buhler is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, California Magazine and Sierra Magazine. His story on Rob Knight's work was selected for the 2012 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing.
Today we study the brain with painstaking detail. But we largely ignore what might prove to be the most important part of our body: the trillions of microbes that live inside us, especially in our gut. Increasingly, it looks like the harmless bacteria we each have - or lack - may hold the key to our most vexing health issues, including obesity, allergies, asthma and digestive problems. The makeup of this internal ecosystem varies wildly from person to person. Different people - even those in the same ethnic group, geographic region and immediate family - may have up to a 90% difference in the contents of our gut. (Compare this with our DNA, where all humans, worldwide, are 99.99% the same.) Evidence shows that small changes in the microbes present (altered by antibiotics, diet, geographic region, and so on) may affect weight, likelihood of disease and even psychological factors like risk-taking behaviour. Knight and Buhler explore the previously unseen world inside our bodies, in dynamic, accessible prose geared towards a general audience.