Diaper disposal is one of the less pleasant parts of parenthood. But many caregivers will tell you that their conversations can sometimes focus on the contents of those diapers more than they would have anticipated before their children arrived. For gut microbiome maven Stephanie Culler, the contents of her daughter’s diapers became even more fascinating. Now, she’s signing up other new parents to send her the contents of their babies’ diapers, all in the name of science.
When Culler was expecting her daughter, Elizabeth, she learned that approximately 95% of babies in the US are missing the gut bacterium Bifidobacterium longum bv. infantis, which is crucial for setting the stage for the proper development of their digestive and immune systems. So as CEO of gut microbiome biotech Persephone Biosciences, Culler investigated further, including testing herself, her new daughter, and other members of the family. All of them had the bacterium in their guts, which she says was a relief. But what about other families?
Culler is now calling for new parents to send her, or rather her company,their kids’ poop and fill out annual questionnaires for the next 7 years. Her firm’s scientists will then track how the different microbiota might have impacted the kids’ health in their tiny guts.
Culler hopes that the study might help Persephone develop probiotics to boost baby health in the same way that the firm has been developing therapeutics to modify the gut microbiomes of people with cancer. One day, she hopes the firm can develop ways to make healthier infant guts and so reduce incidences of allergies or gastrointestinal issues later in life.
But all that’s in the future. Right now, the company is just trying to sign up a diverse set of babies aged 2 months or younger. For the parents who enroll in the trial, the sampling requires them to scoop out some of the diaper’s contents into a provided kit and then send it via prepaid shipping to Persephone. That’s one special, if stinky, delivery.
Perhaps in the future, parental diaper chat will include a rundown of the bacterial contents of the poop along with the other, more prominent, signs of gut health.
Biotechs might be working on ways to promote good bacteria over the bad in your guts. But another way some researchers have tried to improve gut health is the slightly icky idea of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Whether through a pill, enema, or another introduction method, FMT means that people with damaged gut microbiomes take fecal matter from a healthy donor to try to reseed their guts with a complete and healthy range of microbiota.
It might sound unpleasant, but the technique has treated problems such as drug-resistant Clostridium difficile infections. The problem is, of course, that the transplanted poop might also have less helpful bacteria inside.
Newscripts was therefore intrigued by a recent opinion article from Yang-Yu Liu and colleagues at Harvard Medical School. In it, the researchers argue that perhaps we should all be banking our own gut microbiomes when we’re young and healthy by way of a poop deposit (Trends Mol. Med. 2022, DOI: 10.1016/j.molmed.2022.05.005). That way, everyone would have their own gut microbiome to fall back on in the case of disease or other health problems.
There are logistical and cost implications to be ironed out, as well as whether “withdrawals” from such a stock can confer a real clinical benefit. But maybe one day on the way to the local credit union, we’ll be sending off a different kind of deposit.
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