You have approximately the same weight of gut microbes as brain. For every 1 human cell in your body there are 10 microbes.
Although 99.9% of our genes are identical from person-to-person there is huge variety in our individual microbiota. Like the Kalahari desert is different from the Amazon jungle, there are variations in our own gut ‘landscapes’. So much so that it's possible to determine whose keyboard is whose. Not only is there a lot of variation between people but there is also large variation between skin, fecal, vaginal and mouth ecosystems - despite being less than a meter apart.
Is My Gut Healthy?
Variation. A healthy gut has a diverse microbiota that hasn’t been colonised by dominant microbes. Antibiotics wipe out that much wanted diversity, think A-Bomb.
10 Days of only McDonald's
nuviun interviewed Tim Spector, a researcher, author of the new Book The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, and professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College and founder of the British Gut Project. Dr. Spector followed his son's gut over a 10 day McDonald diet. Obese people and those who eat lots of processed food have less microbiota diversity.
The American Gut Project started 2 years ago, and the British Gut Project started 6 months ago. Spector explains that it was hard to get more than 100 people signed up. Last week the Daily Mail reported on it and asked people to sign up for the sample project allowing people in the UK to have their guts' populations identified for £75. “Now, after last week’s publicity, we had 500 people signed up for it just last week”, he says.
Quantify my Microbiota Health Tech
Innovation is happening in this space. Companies such as uBiome and others, like Silicon Valley startup Second Genome, are trying to start scalable businesses in the field. Richman, founder of UBiome, explains in her TEDMED talk that uBiome is the largest successful crowd-funded citizen science project in human history.
We asked Dr. Spector whether there is a way to constantly monitor microbes. “There is a potential opportunity to do something with saliva, which contains them [microbes] all the time. It’s a way to pick up the signatures. At the moment, daily monitoring is done via poo.
As soon as you get a way to sequence ultra rapidly, via some sort of device, you could end up with some sort of detector device, allowing you to measure via urine, saliva and even via the skin. You might even end up with a patch”, he says.
British Gut vs. uBiome: How open is open?
Spector mentions uBiome as an example for a successful open source platform in the field, but he has concerns: “uBiome sells the data, and it is not as open as the British Gut Project. We are a franchise with the American Gut”. 23andMe also sells genetic data from individuals who have taken the test. The handling of quantified "me data" is a delicate issue.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria have been on the rise, including in cosmopolitan hospitals. Early research into Fecal Microbiota Transplants (a.k.a. trans-poo-sion) look like a promising alternative.
CDI - a nasty disease giving sufferers diarrhea up to twenty times per day - showed dramatic improvements following an FMT. An 83 year old woman infected with antibiotic CRE bacteria also reacted very favorably to a preliminary experiment.
The Future of the 'Crap'sule
FMT is admittedly at a rudimentary stage. Dr. Otter alluded to a future of synthetic feces. But first we need to identify exactly what is having such a powerful effect on the healthy gut.