Chapter Outline

The photo shows a hot spring with a vivid blue color in the middle and a golden color around the edge.
Figure 22.1Certain prokaryotes can live in extreme environments such as the Morning Glory pool, a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The spring’s vivid blue color is from the prokaryotes that thrive in its very hot waters. (credit: modification of work by Jon Sullivan)

Most people think of bacteria as disease-causing organisms. Although some bacteria are pathogens, many are not. For example, the commensal bacteria that inhabit our skin and gastrointestinal tract do a host of good things for us. They protect us from pathogens, help us digest our food, and produce some of our vitamins and other nutrients. These activities have been known for a long time. More recently, scientists have gathered evidence that these bacteria may also help regulate our moods, influence our activity levels, and even help control weight by affecting our food choices and absorption patterns. The Human Microbiome Project has begun the process of cataloging our normal bacteria (and archaea) so we can better understand these functions. You can learn more about the Human Microbiome Project here.