The emergence of the science of the microbiome and its penetration required in absolutely all aspects of our lives just show that nothing is ever as easy as it seems. The invisible nature of the microbiome combined with its massive importance for our future make the transition quite complicated. Plus, the microbiome is a complex science.
In a world that got used to putting three bacteria on a Petri dish to watch their behaviours, scientists had to move on to genomics, which itself had been law for at least 15 years for a great number of issues.
And since old habits die hard, they could not keep working with Petri dishes, so they tried 3D models… one germ, two germs, three germs… in order to study the impact of actives and formulas.
With over 500 varieties of micro-organisms describing a different signature on every skin, it seems almost futile.
Of course, these models are valuable when it comes to answering punctual questions. But the challenge with the Microbiome actually lies in the fact that nothing ever limited to a point of detail: everything that occurs in there is part of a multitude of ecosystems and circumstances, in a permanent flow. Like life. Whether Descartes likes it or not, life cannot be compartmentalized. It tells the story of interdependence, co-dependence, correlation, influences, retro-feedbacks, and collaborations.
Obviously, the in silico models that have slowly been emerging will be the only ones to model the complexity of the microbiome. Companies like ProdermIQ have understood that perfectly well, who have been developing predictive microbiome models for the efficacy of actives.
But, what about genomics?
Genomics is all very well, but just like the human genome did not provide any immediate answers in 2000, the genomics approach to Microbiome studies only describes the first level of a rocket which comprises many others.
Mastering the microbiome is like making an excellent strike in a game of billiards. And if the study of genomics did help describe it, it is not nearly as much help when it comes to understanding it.
Today, we know that a human being is not limited to his genes – which is ironic, because we know it partly thanks to the microbiome. It is gene expression that matters. The same goes for a micro-organism. So of course, it makes it all complicated. So far, few people have been talking about Microbiome epigenetics, but no doubt this time will come.
Be it as it may, metabolomics has taken flight, and proteomics already seems more advanced, although it is still expensive and complex.
The study of the skin microbiota does not take into account the climate, our sleep, and our diet yet. Everything that makes an individual and his environment matters.
Well, one could say this applies to just about everything! Indeed, but scientists only recently started taking those things into account, and they are still far from being common. Again, Descartes dies hard. Our culture keeps getting us back to what we already know, and whatever we may think, science is a place where conservatisms are as strong and widespread as anywhere else.
So, the microbiome is a double challenge, given the forced complexity it introduces into our practices, and the fact that to manage it, we need to get out of our usual modes of thinking.