The term “gnotobiotic” stems from the Greek words “gnosis” (“known”) and “bios” (“life”). Somewhat paradoxically, a gnotobiotic animal is, at least originally, one with no known life. That is, a gnotobiotic animal is born and reared in a sterile environment, so that it is germ free (or GF, in the parlance of the articles I’ve been reading of late). Gnotobiotic animals can be colonized, then, with defined microbiota and used in research that examines the role of specific microbes (e.g., by comparing physiologic processes in gnotobiotic and colonized animals).
Why is this interesting to a sociologist (beyond the opportunity for wordplay with the Rumsfeldian title of the previous post?). Well, it’s interesting to this sociologist because research using gnotobiotic animals is part of recent scientific endeavors, like the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), which focus on the relationship between humans and our microbiota, the microorganisms that live on and in human beings. While many aspects of the HMP are fascinating, I am most riveted by the proposition that it will support an understanding of the human as a “superorganism”: Continue reading “our gnotobios, our selves”