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Whitman’s line, “I contain multitudes,” resonates in experience and, increasingly, with our scientific understanding of ourselves. We are made of many parts, and many types of parts, that work concurrently, redundantly and sometimes in opposition - we are the result of this vibrant cacophony.

Biology provides us with different perspectives to identify parts of body and mind. We think of the human body (and consequentially of the individual) as a solid whole, neatly separated from the environment by a layer of skin and organized by a central organ. Recent discoveries contradict this, showing that the human body is better understood as a super-organism that includes more non-human than human cells, and that intention and decision making take place at the level of the cell and more…


This series explores continuity and boundary, ideas which are fundamental to the definition and integrity of our sense of self and individual identity.

The cover of the June 14th issue of the international scientific journal Nature was based on the piece "Our Self Portrait: the Human Microbiome."


Full caption:

The cover illustration is inspired by the original painting ‘Our Self-Portrait: the HumanMicrobiome’ by scientific artist Joana Ricou ( The Human Microbiome Project (HMP), supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, has the goal of characterizing the microbial communities that inhabit and interact with the human body in sickness and in health. In two Articles in this issue of Nature, the HMP Consortium presents the first population-scale details of the organismal and functional composition of the microbiota across five main body areas. An associated News & Views discusses these initial results — which, along with those of a series of co-publications, already constitute the most extensive catalogue of organisms and genes related to the human microbiome yet published — and highlights some of the major questions that the project will tackle in the next few years. (Cover graphics: Steven H. Lee/ Studio Graphiko.)



Also featured in

Homo microbis: The Human 

Microbiome, Figural, Literal, Political by Stefan Helmreich

Thresholds: Human, vol. 42 Journal of MIT School of Architecture 2014


We can do Butter by LeLa Buttery

The Healist Books (September 30, 2013)

We Can Do Butter! is a look at personal health and the health of the planet from a biologist and private chef with experience ranging from health care to food safety for the Department of Agriculture. 


Joana Ricou, copyright 2013

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