You are an ecosystem. Yeah, you. [WARNING] [This post may make you say ewwww]

Once again, WNYC”s Radiolab was the inspiration for us.  Radiolab, in case you haven’t heard our praises before, is a radio program in the USA’s National Public Radio network, and produced by WNYC in New York.  You can (and should) pick up their podcasts here.   And, you can listen to the precise episode which inspired this post here, without any MP3 player, just go there and play it right out of your computer’s speaker(s).

So this episode was called Guts.

And it is about stomachs and intestines and so forth, but the most interesting piece to us was the recent scientific findings regarding how each one of us – each person – although born without them, inherits, nurtures and maintains (here comes the ewww part) tiny creatures like spidery bacteriophages and wormlike helminth parasites.  Thousands of them.  In fact, here are a few facts which may just blow your mind (and maybe your dinner):

  • Right now, there are about 10,000 species of all sorts living inside and on you.
  • Their total number is in the trillions.
  • These creatures actually outnumber your cells ten to one.  You are actually a minority!
  • The weight of these creatures – more than 3 pounds – totals about the same weight as your brain.  Some scientists now even consider them an “organ” unto themselves.

If you are wondering what the heck this has to do with the triple bottom line, the quadruple bottom line, sustainability, or project management, well, it has just about everything to do with it.

First, let’s take the literal connection.  The investigation into these creatures has yielded a real project, with real people employed, following real Gantt Charts and Work Breakdown Structures, and spending real dollars.  It’s called the Human Mircrobiome Project, a five-year, $173 million effort to catalog “the tiny critters that occupy every inch of the human body inside and out.

Next, let’s look at the fact that these critters are in us and they not only don’t always seem to hurt us, they actually help us.  This paper from Nestle Purina Research Center details some of them.  Here’s a quote: “Beneficial
bacteria, such as bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and many species of enterococci provide nutrients for intestinal cells, promote absorption of nutrients, create a healthy intestinal environment and promote a healthy immune system that is primed and ready to fight potential pathogens.”

So for health, we need to maintain a balance.  That’s the way an ecosystem works.  You, dear friends, dear project managers, dear environmentalists, dear climate change skeptics, you all  are literally – and equally – a walking reminder to  yourselves that one must balance resources and that the number of stakeholders important to your sustainability is much larger than you think.  There are lessons in this for those studying climate change, for example.

“There are more similarities between creatures that survive in two different deserts than between [those that live in] a desert or a rain forest,” said Harvard computational biologist Curtis Huttenhower, lead co-author of a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. “The different regions of your body are these bugs’ deserts and rain forests.”

If you are interested in following up, you (and your whole ecosystem) can mosey on over to this article which provides more detail, or to this site which details the human microbiome  project.  You’ll also find this article interesting.

But probably your best bet is to listen to the show that inspired and informed us in the first place: Guts by Radiolab.