Segre said there's a need for long-term studies that follow the same people over time. That way, researchers can see whether greater fungal diversity precedes infections, or vice-versa.
Fungal infections are very common. About 20 percent of the population gets toenail infections alone, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. And those infections are often tough to treat, and tend to recur.
Relman said research like this could help uncover the reasons why some people are vulnerable to recurrent fungal infections, while others aren't. And that understanding will hopefully lead to better treatments, Segre said.
In general, getting to know the microbe communities that dwell on and in humans can only be a good thing, according to Relman.
"These communities aren't random," he said. Like humans, microbes form groups to help each other survive. And the various bacterial and fungal communities on the human body actually communicate with each other, and with your own cells.
"They learn to live together," Relman said. "And that depends on chatter."
If the idea of existing as one with chattering microbes is unsettling, Relman stressed that it's a mostly beneficial arrangement. It's only when the system breaks down that your health may suffer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on fungal infections.
SOURCES: Julie Segre, Ph.D., senior investigator, U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Md.; David Relman, M.D., professor, medicine, microbiology and immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif.; May 22, 2013, Nature, online
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