A field researcher from America has transplanted fecal microbiome from a Tanzanian tribesman to his own gut. Why? Well… to see what happens, basically.
“AS THE SUN set over Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, nearly thirty minutes had passed since I had inserted a turkey baster into my bum and injected the feces of a Hadza man – a member of one of the last remaining hunter-gatherers tribes in the world – into the nether regions of my distal colon.”
It’s not every day you get the chance to read an essay which starts like this, isn’t it? Yet that’s exactly how Jeff Leach, the man behind this research, starts his story. He has been part of a team working in Tanzania and living side by side with the Hadza, a group of hunter gatherer people. The Hadza live now the same way their ancestors have for thousands or even tens of thousands of years; they are the last full-time hunter-gatherers in Africa. What’s interesting is that the Hadza are not genetically related to any other people, and their language is unique.
The Hadza are also at the mercy of the local weather and climate. Leach’s team has collected numerous (over 2000) samples from humans, animals, and the environment in order to observe how the microbial communities in and around the Hadza change as a result of the weather patterns – especially the six month variation (dry season – wet season).
“[The question is] what a normal or healthy microbiome might have looked like before the niceties and medications of late whacked the crap out of our gut bugs in the so-called modern world,” Leach writes.
For this purpose, the Hadza are indeed ideal subjects. They are not stone-age or isolated people – they’ve had plenty of contact with other humans, but they still have the same diet and lifestyle they’ve had for millennia, and almost never use modern medication.
The microbiome in the colon is starting to receive more and more attention – and rightfully so. The health impact it has on our bodies is huge, and has been widely ignored in Western medicine, until recently. Eating “probiotics” and similar foods is a good step, but this just “scratches the surface”. Meanwhile, fecal transplant has been used more and more to treat various afflictions.
“Recent research suggests that use of antibiotics may be fundamentally altering our gut biomes for the worse, increasing rates of allergies, asthma and weight gain. In one recent lab study, introduction of genetically altered gut bacteria prevented mice from getting fat. In another, artificial sweetners altered gut microbes and contributed to obesity and other metabolic disorders in mice, and some correlation to the same effect was found in people”, Popular Science writes.
So understanding how our biome changed as a result of a modern lifestyle could have huge implications for future medicine… but is a fecal transplant really necessary? Leach and his team believe it will greatly accelerate the study. Their results are already interesting, but they want to find out as soon as possible if modern humans can survive with ancient fecal biome.
“On the original question of whether or not the gut microbiome composition of the Hadza changes between wet and dry seasons, our initial – though unpublished data – suggest yes. To our knowledge this is the first study in the world to document this pattern among rural and remote populations. Ecologically speaking, this suggests there may not be one steady state – or equilibrium – for the human gut. It’s moving target with multiple steady states.”, Leach writes further.
Another reason why he is doing this is to test his theory: that we have conducted a biome genocide, basically wiping out most of the bacteria that inhabits our gut. He wants to see what will happen when you get that biome back.
“Microbial extinction [is] something I believe we all suffer from in the western world and may be at the root of what’s making us sick.”
Is there truth to his theories? The fact that he would risk inserting a hunter-gatherer’s feces inside of him seems to indicate that at the very least, he’s very confident in his ideas. Personally, I think what he says makes a lot of sense. Most of what we are is actually bacteria or other foreign bodies – it seems extremely unlikely for those elements to not have any particular impact; wiping them out (as we are doing today, with modern drugs and the modern diet) likely has serious consequences. We’ll keep you posted on how the situation develops.