‘Imagine if there were an organ in your body that weighed as much as your brain, that affected your health, your weight and even your behaviour. Wouldn’t you want to know more about it? There is such an organ — the collection of microbes in and on your body, your human microbiome.’ 

Only around 10% of our bodies are actually made up of human cells, the rest is inhabited by trillions of microbes that live in and on us, most of which are essential for us to live and function properly. The most diverse population of microbes is found in our digestive system, so what effect does our diet or environment have on our microbiome? And what happens when we take a course of antibiotics?

From the benefits of fermented foods to the stomach churning science of faecal transplants, researchers are only just beginning to discover how important these microbes are in relation to our overall health.

Now there is an opportunity to understand more about the trillions of bacteria that inhabit our bodies. Coursera, an educational platform that partners with top universities to provide free online courses open to all, has joined with the University of Colorado to host Gut Check: Exploring your Microbiome. The course takes place over six weeks, beginning on Monday 6th October.

As part of the course, you can expect video segments, interviews with subject matter experts, demonstrations to emphasize key concepts, quizzes and short assignments.

The first part of the syllabus will include an introduction to microbes and the human microbiome, the history of microbial research, a review of the cutting edge techniques used to examine microbial communities today and how to make sense of this data. The second part will discuss the major factors that can affect our gut microbiome and how this relates to diet, nutrition and health. It will also cover how the gut microbiome can affect your body outside of the gut, including interactions with the immune system and the brain.

Screen Shot 2012-11-21 at 2.24.27 PMGut Check: Exploring your Microbiome will conclude with an in-depth review of the American Gut Project, the world’s largest open source science project that is aiming to better understand the microbial diversity of the human gut and how it varies from person to person. If you’re interested in finding out what’s happening in your own microbiome, the project is currently seeking participants to provide samples and information about their diet and lifestyle. In return they will present you with a complete list of the bacteria in your sample and show you how your bacterial community compares to others in the study, including Michael Pollan, who wrote about the experience of having his own microbiome analysed in the New York Times.

On completion of the course, there is also the option to receive a verified certificate from the University of Colorado. Register now to reserve your free place.

Feature image by IRRI Photos

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