Some scientists say that human beings are more bacteria than human, with bacteria cells found in and on our body outnumbering human cells 10 to 1. Others claim that the bacteria found on each one of us could fill up a half-gallon jug. Others still are unsure how much bacteria we’re covered in, but it’s a lot, and probably more than the average person is comfortable thinking about.
Thankfully, Mark Smith PhD ’14 isn’t the average person. A microbiologist, Smith came to MIT to study this huge community of bacteria known as the microbiome, focusing specifically on the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Smith worked in the Alm Lab. He explains some of his research, “We would find healthy patients and a disease cohort, take stools samples to sequence their microbiome and find signatures that distinguish between them. We find there are a lot of diseases that have distinct microbial compositions. The question is does disease cause the altered microbiome, or does the altered microbiome cause the disease?”
This question and ones like it are what led Smith to co-found OpenBiome, a non-profit stool bank that supports research of the human microbiome. How does a stool bank connect to microbiome research? Stool samples offer an impressive look at the bacteria inside the gastrointestinal tract and researchers have found that bacteria in healthy people is often different from the bacteria in less-than healthy people. Because of this, fecal transplants—transplanting stool from one individual to another—are being explored as treatments for disease, infection, and digestive issues. OpenBiome works to facilitate these transplants specifically for an infection known as C. Diff.
In this Slice of MIT podcast, you’ll learn how fecal transplants work, why they’re effective in combating C. Diff, and what the future of microbiome research looks like.
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