Scott Chimileski is a PhD candidate in Genetics at the University of Connecticut. Scott studies biofilms, extracellular DNA, and gene transfer in extremophilic archaea. He is interested in all forms of interaction between microbes and promotes the field of social microbiology on his blog, Animalcule. He is passionate about photography and the connection between art and science. In the summer, Scott likes to backpack through remote wilderness with his sister Lindsay and brothers Andrew and Brock.
You are given a million dollars to launch your favourite scientific business idea. What is it, and what would you do with the money?
Imagine, an army of microbes, all on your side!
Do you brush your teeth after breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Floss? Mouthwash? The fact is, no matter how good your habits are, there are around six billion microorganisms living in your mouth, including hundreds of different species of bacteria and some archaea. These tiny but powerful cells stick together in communities called biofilms. Very few of them are harmful, after all they’ve been with us as long as we’ve been human. It’s not just your mouth, the entire Earth is managed by microbes.
Six-Billion Gum embraces the microbial community. Our approach is built upon cutting edge science from the Human Microbiome Project, but our motto is age-old: “if you can’t beat them, join them!” Six-Billion Gum is infused with prebiotic and probiotic factors designed not to kill all bacteria, but to enlist groups of microbes found in healthy mouths to fight against the bad guys–the ones that cause cavities or give you bad breath.
To understand how Six-Billion products work, we need to watch the microbiology of the mouth in action. Imagine you are one-hundred thousand times smaller, not even visible between the finest marks on a ruler, standing on the surface of one of your teeth. At this scale bacteria would range in size like different breeds of dogs at your feet. Your shoes might get caught as you trudge through the glue-like matrix of a biofilm that appears like a landscape with peaks and valleys. Countless stories unfold within this microbial world.
You are bound to encounter the most mischievous of mouth bacteria, Streptococcus mutans. This particular bacterium converts sugar to lactic acid that dissolves the enamel on teeth over time. Luckily, other bacteria that live in the same biofilm can use lactic acid as a food source. Ingredients within Six-Billion Gum are specifically aimed at maintaining high numbers of these species, and with enough of them eating lactic acid as fast as it is produced, you may completely evade the dentist’s drill.
If I had one million dollars to start a scientific business, I would create a line of oral hygiene products under the brand name Six-Billion. I would utilize initial funds to develop and launch a package of gum, to be sold alongside conventional gums at pharmacies and supermarkets. Six-Billion Gum tastes good, and synthesizes a modern understanding of human microbiota, oral health, and biofilm formation.
Unlike ordinary gum, Six-Billion Gum will contain a blend of prebiotics promoting the growth of microbes associated with healthy mouths, as well as active cultures of beneficial strains. The oral hygiene industry is dominated by products that attempt to remove dental plaque without discrimination between natural microbial groups. These products do not take advantage of a recent revolution in microbiological research.
The Six-Billion brand advances a paradigm shift underway in our perception of microorganisms. Bacteria exist in delicate and diverse microscopic ecosystems and are not all to be avoided. In fact, a balanced population of microbes is essential for human health. The packaging for Six-Billion products and the accompanying interactive Six-Billion website is playful, accessible, and informative, with logo art featuring colourful cartoons depicting the microbes as characters to educate a market already primed by years of press addressing microbiome research.
Six-Billion Gum will act as the flagship for the brand, and will be followed by Six-Billion Toothpaste and Six-Billion Mouthwash. Research and development required for the identification of prebiotic components and probiotic species will draw upon a wealth of primary literature and clinical studies published through the Human Microbiome Project.