Dr. Martin J. Blaser is the Muriel and George Singer Professor of Medicine and Director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University. For over 30 years, Dr. Blaser has observed the role of bacteria in human disease with a special focus on the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, Campylobacter species, Salmonella, and Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax). He has served as President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and as the Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Cancer Institute Advisory Board for Clinical Research at the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Blaser was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences in 2013 and is one of the Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology. Dr. Blaser is the author of over 500 original scientific papers and holds 24 U.S. patents relating to his research. In 2015, he was selected to be in TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World. He is perhaps best known for his book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues which has now been translated into 20 languages.
Dr. Blaser is the Founding Publisher of the Bellevue Literary Review, “A Journal of Humanity and Human Experience,” that publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the human body, illness, health, and healing, which he founded as a way to improve medical students’ writing. ”It became clear to me what poor writers most doctors are,” he said, and was instrumental in installing a new curriculum requirement at Bellevue Hospital Center in which each student must write an essay about a patient. Dr. Blaser firmly believes should be part and parcel within the pursuit of science and medicine.
In conversation with Dr. Blaser:
How did you get here? What brought you to science? I was asked to consult on a patient with a very severe and rare infection. The more I studied the infection the more interested I became (thanks to modern treatment, the patient fully recovered). It is fair to say that I was seduced by science—I had no intention of becoming a scientist, yet little by little it took over my life.
Why do you do what you do? In other words, what wakes you up every morning? What gets me up each morning is the list of things that I must accomplish that day—usually, the list has 8-10 items. Sometimes at the end of the day, I have completed none! On a good day, I can complete most, and the items left over go to the next day’s list with all the new events of the day. The opportunity to do something original, to discover new things, to apply them to better the condition of one person, or many people–that is the underlying motivation.
What led you to bacteria? Why are bacteria important? As a doctor, It has been clear since the beginning of my education that bacteria are important. Initially, it was mostly about bacteria being harmful, but gradually I have learned about their great utility to us, and in fact to all life forms. Without bacteria, we could not survive. I continue to learn about the amazing feats of bacteria, their collective intelligence, and how we would much rather be working with them as partners, than against them as enemies.
Why do you the microbiome is so important? That’s easy: it’s clear that we (along with our ancestors) have co-evolved with our microbiome since time immemorial. They have been a part of us, since well before we were humans, and they perform many important jobs for us — we are learning new ones all of the time. They are our life-partners.
What do you think is the future of bacteria? I predict that there will be important discoveries that will revolutionize our approaches to both health and disease. I can’t tell you what or when, but it will gradually ripple out.
How do you define science? Science is a systematic pursuit to understand the principles and actions of nature.
How do you define health? Heath is a natural gift that comes with life itself. It is the ability to live life without great physical or psychological restrictions. Most are lucky enough to enjoy it for most of their lives, but not all are so lucky. Staying healthy, spreading health, preventing and treating diseases are important pursuits for all people.
Why work with a company like Seed? Seed has great health awareness, and the ability to spread ideas and materials for good purposes. I am happy to work together to discover ways that people can live healthier lives and to then assist them in doing so.
Favorite science fact? When scientists drilled deep cores down into the earth, maybe two miles down, in one core, they found only three things—granite, water, and bacteria! That immediately showed me the range of where bacteria live and what they can do—everything else seems easy in comparison—even living in volcanoes!
Koh H, Livanos A E, Blaser M J, Li H. “A highly adaptive microbiome-based association test for survival traits.” BMC Genomics, 19(1):210, 2018 Mar 20. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29558893. DOI: 10.1186/s12864-018-4599-8.
Kienesberger S, Perez-Perez G I, Olivares A Z, Bardhan P, Sarker S A, Hasan K Z, Sack R B, Blaser M J. “When is Helicobacter pylori acquired in populations in developing countries? A birth-cohort study in Bangladeshi children.” Gut Microbes, 1:1-12, 2018 Mar. Web ahead of print. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1421887.
Stokholm J, Blaser M J, Thorsen J, Rasmussen M A, Waage J, Vinding R K, Schoos A M, Kunøe A, Fink N R, Chawes B L, Bønnelykke K, Brejnrod A D, Mortensen M S, Al-Soud W A, Sørensen S J, Bisgaard H. ”Maturation of the gut microbiome and risk of asthma in childhood.” Nat Commun, 9(1):141, 2018 Jan 10. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02573-2.
Schulfer A F, Battaglia T, Alvarez Y, Bijnens L, Ruiz V E, Ho M, Robinson S, Ward T, Cox L M, Rogers A B, Knights D, Sartor R B, Blaser M J. “Intergenerational transfer of antibiotic-perturbed microbiota enhances colitis in susceptible mice.” Nat Microbiol, 3(2):234-242, 2018 Feb. Web 2017 Nov 27. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1038/s41564-017-0075-5
Kemppainen K M, Vehik K, Lynch K F, Larsson H E, Canepa R J, Simell V, Koletzko S, Liu E, Simell O G, Toppari J, Ziegler A G, Rewers M J, Lernmark Å, Hagopian W A, She J X, Akolkar B, Schatz D A, Atkinson M A, Blaser M J, Krischer J P, Hyöty H, Agardh D, Triplett E W; Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) Study Group. “Association between early-life antibiotic use and the risk of islet or celiac disease autoimmunity.” JAMA Pediatr, 171(12):1217-1225, 2017 Dec 1. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.2905.
Ruiz V E, Battaglia T, Kurtz Z D, Bijnens L, Ou A, Engstrand I, Zheng X, Iizumi T, Mullins B J, Müller C L, Cadwell K, Bonneau R, Perez-Perez G I, Blaser M J. “A single early-in-life macrolide course has lasting effects on murine microbial network topology and immunity.” Nat Commun, 8(1):518, 2017 Sep 11. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00531-6.
Blaser M J. “The theory of disappearing microbiota and the epidemics of chronic diseases.” Nat Rev Immunol, 17(8):461-463, 2017 Jul 27. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28749457. DOI: 10.1038/nri.2017.77. Blaser M J, Dominguez-Bello M G. “The Human Microbiome before Birth.” Cell Host Microbe, 20(5):558-560, 2016 Nov 9. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2016.10.014.
Livanos A E, Greiner T U, Vangay P, Pathmasiri W, Stewart D, McRitchie S, Li H, Chung J, Sohn J, Kim S, Gao Z, Barber C, Kim J, Ng S, Rogers A B, Sumner S, Zhang X S, Cadwell K, Knights D, Alekseyenko A, Bäckhed F, Blaser M J. “Antibiotic-mediated gut microbiome perturbation accelerates development of type 1 diabetes in mice.” Nat Microbiol, 1(11):16140, 2016 Aug 22. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.140.
Segal L N, Clemente J C, Tsay J C, Koralov S B, Keller B C, Wu B G, Li Y, Shen N, Ghedin E, Morris A, Diaz P, Huang L, Wikoff W R, Ubeda C, Artacho A, Rom W N, Sterman D H, Collman R G, Blaser M J, Weiden M D. “Enrichment of the lung microbiome with oral taxa is associated with lung inflammation of a Th17 phenotype.” Nat Microbiol, 1:16031, 2016 Apr 4. Accessed 2018 June 4. DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.31.
Blaser M J. “Antibiotic use and its consequences for the normal microbiome.” Science, 352(6285):544-5, 2016 Apr 29. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27126037. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9358.