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Alongside them, throughout your gut, in your mouth, on your skin, there are even more—40 trillion, give or take—individual bacteria.

Together they make up 2 percent of your body weight, roughly equivalent to the weight of your brain, and carry some 3.3 million genes, to your paltry 22,000.

The mouth is the microbial equivalent of a rainforest, teeming with creatures, interspecies warfare, cataclysms.

Some of these residents form a film on your teeth, colonies stuck together with DNA, proteins, and polysaccharides.

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Inside, researchers find, extract, isolate, and amplify DNA molecules and proteins, producing voluminous mounds of data that can address grand, complex questions about migration, diet, and human health—in the deep past and today. They’re encountering the advantages and pitfalls of interdisciplinary science.The term “microbiome” isn’t yet two decades old but it is already clear that these communities have a profound impact on human health.In addition to critical roles in oral and digestive health, the microbiome has been associated in some way with everything from mood disorders to cardiovascular disease, from autism to rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention countless infectious diseases.And they’re writing the first drafts of a new chapter in archaeological research.But before they can do any of this, they have to ensure that the lab is scrupulously clean.

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