Done with your lunch? Good, here we go: You may know that implanting feces from healthy people into sick people can treat the deadly gastrointestinal infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile. But Emma Allen-Vercoe and her colleagues at the University of Guelph in Ontario believe that they can improve on this wholesale transplantation strategy. They're working to tailor mixtures of gut microbes for individual patients. Unfortunately, these bacteria are finicky and don't grow well in petri dishes, so her team makes artificial poop.
PopSci: What's the special recipe for fake feces?
Emma Allen-Vercoe: It contains things like the indigestible cellulose that's left after a meal has passed through your digestive tract and down to your distal gut, the end of the line for digestion. It's pretty nasty-looking. It's a brown sludge, it's got lumps of starch, and it's kind of gloopy. It doesn't look or smell very appetizing.
PS: How do you turn that sludge into a fecal transplant?
EAV: Robogut. Robogut is made of six big beakers full of that sludge that are warmed to body temperature. And we add the bacteria from a small amount of human feces. Since oxygen is poison to anaerobic gut bacteria, each vessel is sealed to make it airtight, while sensors monitor temperature and acidity.
PS: What's the worst part about working with synthetic poop?
EAV: Because of regulations, we can't just flush the waste down the toilet. So we have to sterilize it by cooking it at a very high temperature and then throw it out. That means we have to do it at night when no one is there, because the whole building starts to smell like poop.
PS: What's the most surprising thing you've learned from your research?
EAV: That microbes are not the enemy. Within the next 20 years, we'll be moving away from this idea that pathogens cause most disease. We'll be looking at diseases that are brought on by a breakdown in the microbial ecosystem—of an imbalance in the good microbes that already live in your body.
PS: What keeps you up at night?
EAV: Because governments are making it very difficult to get the medical supervision for a fecal transplant, there's this sort of underground culture of people doing them on each other, just getting the information off the Internet and then transplanting without any supervision. With no proper surveillance, they could be doing far more harm than good. I am terrified for them.
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Popular Science. See more stories from the magazine here.
I knew of someone who had lost key gut flora after an illness. She could only eat basic foods and had to boil it almost to a paste or she would get sick.
Later I heard about poop transplants and I am convinced it would have fixed her. Simply take poop from a healthy relative blend it and squirt it up there with a turkey baster. It's simple and logical and the idea feels about as right as rubbing pussy scabs with a lepro. And I can see why Emma would be terrified. If you got your poop from the wrong source you could get all sorts of diseases including std's, I don't even think the possibility of transplanting cancer would be out of the question. From what I've read gut flora varies quite substantially from family to family and keeping your flora close to the original works best. So a universal clinical poop may not be as effective as keeping your poop in the family.
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Darn government is trying to keep us from good poop!
Or maybe it is difficult to be sure you aren't passing on any bad things in your mix????