Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 27, Issue 12, pp 1704–1706 | Cite as

Time to Recognize Our Fellow Travellers

  • Travis B. Murdoch
  • Allan S. Detsky


It is increasingly apparent that human health is reliant on our fellow travellers, the innumerable microorganisms that inhabit our bodies. This realization has led to the concept of the superorganism, which suggests that shared metabolic and signalling pathways are crucial for optimal existence of both host and commensal microflora. This commentary focuses on implications of this paradigm for personalized medicine and therapeutics. Study of the microbiome, the collection of microorganisms inhabiting the body, may identify disease-associated microbial profiles with pathophysiological and diagnostic value. As with genomics, companies will emerge offering direct to consumer microbiome analysis. Probiotics can potentially modulate the superorganism for therapeutic benefit. However, the probiotics industry will need to undergo a transformation, with increased focus on stringent manufacturing guidelines and high-quality clinical trials. Ultimately, we suggest that healthcare will move beyond its prevailing focus on human physiology, and embrace the superorganism as a paradigm to understand disease.


superorganism human microbiome probiotic 



The authors thank Dr. Ken Croitoru for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest and there was no source of funding for this paper.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of MedicineMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Medicine, University Health NetworkUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Zane Cohen Centre for Digestive DiseasesMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Institute for Health Policy, Management and EvaluationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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