In a follow up study to the obese mice one mentioned in the last post, researchers set out to find exactly what was similar and different in obese and lean people on a metabolic level. They compiled metabolic profiles for 18 individuals and examined (among many other things) how many genes were processing sugar and fat, how many were helping to store energy, and how many were causing inflammation in the gut. After identifying shared metabolic pathways, the researches set out to look for pathways that were distinctive in obese individuals. They found that 383 genes were significantly different between obese and lean individual guts, and most of the obese enriched genes were in Actinobacteria (with a quarter in Firmicutes) with none being in Bacteroidetes. Also, 42% of the distinctly activated genes in lean individuals were from Bacteriodetes. Finally, the researchers found that while an individual’s microbial handprint tends to more closely resemble that of her siblings and parents, obesity trumps familial similarities in that an obese twin will have a microbial handprint that looks more like another obese person’s rather than one that looks like her lean sister.
These studies open up a whole new world of health manipulation. Using the obese and lean ecosystems as a starting point, we have begun to see what other diseases have particular ecosystems, and we’ve found that all do. The research is still in its initial stages, but the possibilities for health are intriguing. Just as microbes make a mad land grab in our gut river valley, science is making a land grab in holobiont research. Already, individuals have pursued FMT as a way to cure things like C. diff infections and various IBD to varying levels of success—emphasizing that there is no “one size fits all” solution. But can shit really save their lives? Some people say yes. Others no. However, it is certain that while establishing what a diseased holobtiont looks like is easy, establishing the profile of a healthy one is harder than we think
As we learn more and more about our micro-bionts, we see that they offer a wonderful avenue of quickly affecting change (both positive and negative) to the whole holobiont. As FMT becomes more and more commonplace for bowel disorders like C. diff infections, the public view of trading feces will begin to shift. Further, as technology advances and feces get encapsulated (the ultimate probiotic), getting an FMT will most likely be a lot less messy[i]. A world of possibilities within a single turd.