In various regions of the body, resident microbiota serve as an important first-line defense against invading pathogens. Through their occupation of cellular binding sites and competition for available nutrients, the resident microbiota prevent the critical early steps of pathogen attachment and proliferation required for the establishment of an infection. For example, in the vagina, members of the resident microbiota compete with opportunistic pathogens like the yeast Candida. This competition prevents infections by limiting the availability of nutrients, thus inhibiting the growth of Candida, keeping its population in check. Similar competitions occur between the microbiota and potential pathogens on the skin, in the upper respiratory tract, and in the gastrointestinal tract. As will be discussed later in this chapter, the resident microbiota also contribute to the chemical defenses of the innate nonspecific host defenses.
The importance of the normal microbiota in host defenses is highlighted by the increased susceptibility to infectious diseases when the microbiota is disrupted or eliminated. Treatment with antibiotics can significantly deplete the normal microbiota of the gastrointestinal tract, providing an advantage for pathogenic bacteria to colonize and cause diarrheal infection. In the case of diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, the infection can be severe and potentially lethal. One strategy for treating C. difficile infections is fecal transplantation, which involves the transfer of fecal material from a donor (screened for potential pathogens) into the intestines of the recipient patient as a method of restoring the normal microbiota and combating C. difficile infections.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology