A Thousand Microbes in Your Mouth and Other Scenes From the 2010 TEDMED Conference

10/28/10Follow @bvbigelow

The TEDMED conference, with its two-hour sessions of engrossing 15-minute presentations on medical technology, education, and design, returned this week to the San Diego area’s famed Hotel del Coronado. Like its progenitor, the annual TED conference in Long Beach, the four-day TEDMED event cultivates an aura of exclusivity by mixing talks from celebrities, prominent CEOs, and famous scientists and technologists—and by charging attendees $4,000 apiece to enjoy the show.

Each series of talks is grouped around a general theme, but the overall effect tends to be impressionistic. So keeping in the spirit, here are some rapid-fire impressions of the TEDMED presentations yesterday afternoon.

—Motivational speaker Tony Robbins is huge!—especially when he’s standing next to the diminutive TEDMED founder Richard Saul Wurman. At 6-feet, 7-inches, Robbins is not just tall—he is clearly some kind of power weight lifter. He could probably bench press 750 pounds. Robbins, whose seminars urge audiences to “Take Charge of Your Life” and “Overcome Any Challenge,” informs the sellout crowd that it is Wurman’s 75th birthday. Robbins asks the audience to acknowledge the inspiration Wurman has provided the world, and they respond with a standing ovation.

—J. Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer and founding CEO of San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics, tells the audience that most humans are born without any microrganisms in their body, but we acquire them very quickly. Scientists estimate that the average human has 1,000 unique j-craig-ventermicrobial species in their mouth, 1,000 in the intestinal tract, 500 in the vagina, and 200 on the skin (mostly on the hands and forearms). “You can’t understand human biology without understanding what all these organisms do,” Venter says. For example, Venter says each human has the ability to make about 500 different chemicals in our blood that circulate throughout the body, including the brain. About 10 percent of these are bacterial metabolites. Another 30 percent are from the food we eat, and 60 percent are from our own metabolic processes.

—Juan Enriquez, managing director of Boston’s Excel Venture Management, makes the argument, drawn from a soon-to-be-published … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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