I am always on the lookout for modern biology references in pop-culture and celebrate when they are correct. In this episode of S2 of dystopia Handmaid’s Tale, there’s a flashback to Emily/Ofglen/Ofsteven past as a ‘cellular biology professor’. A female student asks if Archaea (a nucleus less life form intermediate between lacking nucleus bacteria and eukaryotes) found in the human microbiome.
A male student arrogantly states that Archaea live in extreme environments such as hot springs, so it’s stupid to suggest that they would live on a human. Emily supports the female student by saying that Archaea do live in nasal cavities and on the skin.
Amazingly, the professor’s reply is true. Archae composes a significant amount of microbiome not only of human skin and nasal cavity but of the dental plaque and gut as well.
For example, here’s a picture from an article about the composition of the human microbiome. Catchily named Methanobrevibacter smithii is the most abundant archeon in the human microbiome. Almost nobody investigates Archea in human microbiome as there are no known human pathogens among them. But this study shows that M. smithii is associated with constipation and gut tenderness. In a different study, it was found in larger numbers in anorexic patients. This does not mean, of course, that the archeon causes these conditions, rather that they go together.
Kudos to the writers and scientific consultants of the series for providing an accurate and up to date information. Double kudos for the not-so-subtle feminist message.
P.S. Don’t you think that the UK’s educational department, Ofsted, that inspects schools sounds like a character from The Handmaid’s Tale?