The Bacteria of the Body

Did you know that microbes keep us healthy? That microorganisms make up about 1 to 3 percent of our body mass (2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in a 200-pound adult)? That fecal transplants can help cure bacterial infections in and auto-immune diseases of the human digestive system? I invited TFCB science writer Rebecca E Hirsch, author of The Human Microbiome: The Germs That Keep You Healthy (new for Fall 2016, and a must-have title for any school or public library collection!), to talk about the trillions of microbes that call the human body home:

Did you know that a fecal transplant can be a life saver for people with gut disorders? A fecal transplant is exactly what you might think it is: poop from a healthy person is delivered (via enema or a tube down the nose) into the gut of a sick person.

A few years ago, doctors turned to fecal transplants as a last resort for patients with a wrenching infection of Clostridium difficile bacteria, or C. diff. But the procedure proved surprisingly effective. In clinical trials, more than 90% of C. diff patients were cured, sometimes within a day.

Scientists are now testing fecal transplants against other gut disorders like ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even obesity. New companies have sprung up to capitalize on the idea. Some are working on “poop pills” that are frozen and easy to swallow (as long as you can forget what’s in them). Others are developing a probiotic, a blend of healthy gut bacteria that they hope will deliver the healing power of poop, minus the ick factor.

For more information about the human microbe, please visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbe Project website, and also take a look at I Contain Multitudes, a new adult book about the human microbiome by award-winning science journalist Ed Yong.