Fernbank Museum to Reveal The Secret World Inside You
Discover How Your Microbiome is Uniquely You in Special Exhibit Opening February 10
ATLANTA, January 30, 2018—Fernbank Museum of Natural History invites visitors to discover the trillions of microbes that call our bodies home in the new special exhibit, The Secret World Inside You, on view February 10 through May 6, 2018.
The microbes in and on your body are more numerous than the stars in the Milky Way—clump them together, and they weigh about as much as your brain. Microbes—the term used for organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye—have often been seen simply as "germs" that cause disease. Yet, contrary to this common misconception, most of the microbes that live in your body are vital to keeping your digestive system, your immune system, and even your brain working properly.
Our bodies are home to diverse colonies of microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms collectively called the human microbiome. In any individual, microbial genes outnumber the genes in human DNA by more than 100 to one. Your body also contains more microbial cells than human cells—a new perspective that is changing and complicating our view of ourselves.
The Secret World Inside You, a special exhibition from the American Museum of Natural History, uses larger-than-life models, computer interactives, videos, art installations, and scheduled live presentations to explore the rapidly evolving science that is revolutionizing how we view human health and understand the inner workings of our bodies.
"This exhibit is an engaging way to learn how the microbes in our body function. As science reveals how good and bad bacteria interact, we discover more about our immune system and body functions. With that information, we can learn better ways to adjust our diets and combat illnesses," said Lynn Anders, a biologist at Fernbank Museum. "Visitors will get a hands-on introduction to the exciting world of microbes with interactives, including a game show that shows how certain foods affect the microbiome and a smell interactive to learn about the bacteria that cause stinky feet. "
Investigating the human microbiome is a young science, and researchers are just beginning to understand what constitutes a "normal" microbiome, how it changes over time, and how it affects health and disease. It is clear that the effects of the microbiome on its human host are profound and multifaceted—and could play an important role in common health problems like allergies, asthma, obesity, and even anxiety and depression.
How do microbes—from the type of environment where you grew up to the number of times you have taken antibiotics, which destroy both bad and good bacteria—influence your health? In what ways can your microbiome be said to be its own organ? And is it possible that the state of the bacteria in your gut plays a role in your mental health? The Secret World Inside You dives into these intriguing and other profound questions through an interactive tour of the human body, making stops at places where microbes thrive.
Your skin covers about 20 square feet, making it the largest organ in your body, and microscopic organisms cover it from head to toe. From the point of view of a microbe, your skin is like an enormous continent, with resources that vary dramatically from one region to another. Differences in skin temperature, texture, thickness, humidity and chemistry help determine which kinds of microbes live where.
Your digestive tract, or gut, is home to about 99 percent of your microbiome. Very few bacteria can survive in the acidic environment of your stomach, but they thrive in the small intestine and large intestine, where most digestion and fermentation of food takes place. The microbes here help with digestion, immune regulation, disease prevention, healing and protecting your gut lining, appetite control, brain development, and even emotion.
The exhibition also highlights how varying diets affect the microbiome. For example, while red meat is an important source of nutrition in many cultures, it has also been shown to feed bacteria that can cause heart disease. Fiber-rich foods like beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains sustain beneficial bacteria in your large intestine. And live bacteria in cultured foods, like yogurt, stimulate your immune system and help keep out bacteria that cause disease. An interactive game in The Secret World Inside You will challenge visitors to keep a virtual microbiome healthy in three scenarios: meal time, with menu options ranging from broccoli to cookies to pickles; eliminating strep throat with a variety of antibiotics at your disposal; and deciding whether to prescribe a fecal transplant to battle antibiotic resistance.
Your microbiome is not only different from anyone else's, it's different at various stages of your life. The biggest shifts occur when you have a major change in diet, but adolescence, pregnancy, and old age can also alter your microbiome. The Secret World Inside You features a 14-foot projection of a human body as part of an interactive table that highlights the ways that microbes impact human health. Visitors can zoom in on 17 animated microbial scenes, from the mites that live harmlessly on your eyelashes, to the Streptococcus bacteria that cause plaque on your teeth, to the bacteria that break down the crystals that cause kidney stones.
The Secret World Inside You is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org).
Local support for science education is provided by UCB with additional support from the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation.
SPECIAL PROGRAMMING: Delve into The Secret World Inside You at a Discovery Day for all ages. Meet Your Microbes will take place on Saturday, February 10 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and will feature hands-on games, crafts and activities, as well as special displays from Emory's Department of Microbiology & Immunology and Georgia State University's Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society. Guests will also be able to ramp up their own microbiome with gut-healthy giveaways from Noosa Yoghurt.
Additionally, guests can enjoy The Secret World Inside You during Fernbank's after-hours, adults-only event, Fernbank After Dark. On Friday, March 9, Fernbank After Dark's theme will be Microbes and Microbrews. This event will feature activities and demonstrations from Fernbank educators and local partners that explore not only how microbes affect your health, but also, your beverage of choice.
HOURS AND TICKETS: The Secret World Inside You is included with Museum admission. Tickets are $20 for adults, $19 for seniors, $18 for children ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under, and free for Fernbank members. Fernbank After Dark tickets are $15 for general admission and $20 for general admission and a movie.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road NE in Atlanta. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets and visitor information are available at fernbankmuseum.org or 404.929.6400.