Foodie Gift Giving: A Stool Sample? (Body Eclectic Part 3)
Posted by Richard Conniff on April 23, 2013
How Our Microbes Keep Us HealthyThe public has also embraced the microbiome, beginning a few years ago when researchers at Washington University noticed a curious fact about obesity: Fat mice have more of a bacterial group called Firmicutes in their guts and thin mice have more Bacteroidetes. Feed the mice the same diet, and the ones with more Firmicutes extract more calories and lay on more fat. When the same differences showed up in humans, it seemed to explain the common complaint of many overweight people that they get fat just smelling food their skinny friends gorge on with impunity.
Such studies have stirred up remarkable enthusiasm in a subject matter most people would once have dismissed as yucky, gross or worse. It’s as if people suddenly loved Gulliver’s Travels for the passage where Jonathan Swift depicts a scientifically inclined student trying to return human excrement to the foods from which it originated.
This past winter, two rival efforts invited microbiome enthusiasts to submit their own fecal, oral, genital or skin samples for microbial analysis, and each raised more than $300,000 from crowd-funded donations typically under $100 apiece. The first effort, managed by Rob Knight’s Colorado lab and called American Gut, emphasized participation by top scientists in the field. Prevention magazine ranked the project’s $99 “map of your very own gut bacteria ecosystem” among its top 10 foodie gifts for the holidays. (For romantics, the $189 “Microbes for Two” package included analysis of a stool sample for both you and your partner. Or your dog.)