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Bringing bacteria to the market

Kai Ryssdal and Bennett Purser Apr 29, 2019
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Humans like to clean by killing germs. Products like bleach and antibacterial soap have been household items for decades, used to get rid of anything that make us feel unclean. But there’s shift occurring in the cleaning economy.

 

The trend is moving toward improving bacteria, rather than eliminating it. The concern is that after years of anti-bacterial thinking, humans have eliminated too much of the good bacteria in the microbiome (the fleet of bacteria and organisms living on the body), which is contributing to poor health. Corporations like Unilever, Clorox and S.C. Johnson & Son, all makers of germ-killing products, have invested in startups offering bacteria-based products.

 

The goal, for many of them, is to create medicines and cosmetics that introduce the body to healthy microbes. Caroline Winter, a staff writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, recently reported on the companies trying to bring back bacteria. She spoke to Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the ways introducing bacterial products can improve our health, and why the corporations that have tried to eliminate “germs” are now backing the companies selling them. 

“The human microbiome is incredibly important for our health. And we’ve really decimated the diversity and populations of microbes that live in and on us,” said Winter.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.