Scientists are freezing thousands of human POOS to create a ‘vault of microbiota’ that could one day bring humanity back from the brink of extinction
- The human gut contains trillions of microbes that provide numerous functions
- Microbiome diversity is affected by our food, hygiene, medicines and more
- This diversity has reduced as society has developed – more so in western areas
- Scientists are storing stool samples to create a vault of different gut microbes
Packages of poo have been sent from all over the world to eagerly awaiting scientists in Switzerland – and they could help save humanity from extinction one day.
The frozen stool samples, collected from places such as Ethiopia and Puerto Rico, have been delivered to Adrian Egli’s lab at the University of Zurich.
Mr Egli, who is the director of the Institute of Medical Microbiology, says he is creating a vault of microbiota.
He says the most endangered organisms on Earth are living in humans guts so we should seek to preserve them.
Packages of poo have been sent from all over the world to eagerly awaiting scientists in Switzerland – as they could help save humanity from extinction one day
There are about 30 trillion cells in the human body, but the human microbiome consists of about 39 trillion microbial cells that include bacteria, viruses and fungi (stock image)
Living inside of your gut are 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes.
Paired with other tiny organisms like viruses and fungi, they make what’s known as the microbiota.
Like a fingerprint, each person’s microbiota is unique: The mix of bacteria in your body is different from everyone else’s mix.
It’s determined partly by your mother’s microbiota – the environment that you’re exposed to at birth – and partly from your diet and lifestyle.
The bacteria live throughout your body, but the ones in your gut may have the biggest impact on your well-being.
They line your entire digestive system. Most live in your intestines and colon.
There is evidence it affects everything from your metabolism to your mood to your immune system.
There are about 30 trillion cells in the human body, but the human microbiome consists of about 39 trillion microbial cells that include bacteria, viruses and fungi.
These play a key role in breaking down the foods we eat, helping us to absorb essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
They can also replenish the lining of our gut and skin, fix damaged cells and replace dead cells with new ones.
But, over the past few years, scientists have honed in on how essential they are to our well-being.
These microbes have been linked to depression, immune response, memory loss and life expectancy.
The community of microorganisms is known as the ‘gut microbiota’, but its exact makeup is dependent on our food, medicines, exercise, stress levels and sleep.
The way we live has changed dramatically in the past century – we are eating processed foods, demonstrating better hygiene and being prescribed antibiotics to combat diseases which wipe out bacteria.
As a result, studies have shown that the diversity within the human microbiota is decreasing.
Mr Egli told The Times: ‘People are very aware of biodiversity, the reductions in plants and animals.
‘If the elephant goes extinct, in terms of your own health you’re not having a problem.
‘If your microbiome is disturbed in a certain way, it can have tremendous consequences.’
Microbes in our gut play a key role in breaking down the food we eat, helping us to absorb essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals (stock image)
The way we live has changed dramatically in the past century – we are eating processed foods, demonstrating better hygiene and being prescribed antibiotics to combat diseases which wipe out bacteria. As a result, studies have shown that the diversity within the human microbiota is decreasing
To help mitigate this loss, Mr Egli, along with colleagues from the USA and Germany, have started up their so-called ‘Microbiota Vault’.
This is a bank of frozen stool samples with a variation of microbiotas which can be re-cultured, should they prove beneficial to the human body.
It was inspired by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores ‘spare copies’ of valuable plant seeds in the event that the originals are lost.
The rationale for the Microbiota Vault was first published in 2018, and was founded as a non-profit organisation the following year.
Since then, a pilot project has begun to test that microbes can be revived from a few grams of faeces effectively, as well as find out the best freezing techniques.
The ‘Microbiota Vault’ was inspired by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (pictured), which stores ‘spare copies’ of valuable plant seeds in the event that the originals are lost
The international team has collected about 3,000 stool samples so far, with the majority originated in westernised Switzerland.
However, Mr Egli wants to include samples from people with different lifestyles to expand the microbial diversity of his collection, including rural ones.
He told The Times: ‘We’re not just looking for people who are living in the jungle – it can also be people who are more farm-based, and just different from western.’
As more and more people move to cities, their eating habits change and put the unique gut microbiome they were harbouring at risk of extinction.
‘People who are on the brink, in transition from a rural lifestyle to an urban lifestyle, are very interesting,’ Mr Egli told The Times.
The international team has collected about 3,000 stool samples so far, but the majority have originated in westernised Switzerland (stock image)
As the collection grows to the projected 100,000 samples, the microbiologists know they are going to have to look for a larger storage facility. They currently have their eye on old military bunkers hidden in the Alps that were unoccupied up until the Ukraine war
A few hundred of the samples have come from populations in Puerto Rico and Ethiopia, the latter of which was only delivered in November.
These include samples from ‘Pastoralists’, who count milk as a staple part of their diet, and generally live nomadic lifestyles with little access to medicine.
As well as poo, the scientists are retaining samples of fermented foods which could harbour helpful bacteria.
Currently, the samples are kept in a laboratory freezer at a constant temperature of 112°F (-80°C).
But, as the collection grows to the projected 100,000 samples, Mr Egli knows he is going to have to look for a larger storage facility.
The microbiologist currently has his eye on old military bunkers hidden in the Alps that were unoccupied up until the Ukraine war.
The first batch of samples are due to be thawed after two years, and the project has secured about £825,000 ($1 million) in funding to keep them frozen until then.
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