Could obesity be cured by injecting our guts with fecal bacteria from ancient mummies?
Antibiotics have depleted our gut flora and possibly made us fatter. Researchers look for answers in the flora of humans who lived in an era before modern medicine.
Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Photo: ZUMA Press
It sounds outrageous, but King Tut's stomach bacteria might hold the cure for obesity.
Researchers have recently discovered that modern use of antibiotics has wreaked havoc on the health and content of our gut bacteria. In turn, these changes have altered how our metabolisms work, possibly making us more prone to getting fat.
Now scientists from the University of Oklahoma have proposed an unexpected solution: Why not replenish our gut flora using fecal bacteria from ancient mummies as a guide?
Since ancient mummies lived in an era before antibiotics, it's worth a look to see how their intestinal bacteria differed from modern gut flora, to discover what has changed. For the study, researchers not only performed DNA analysis on samples collected from the intestines of mummies found in North and South America, but they also hunted for preserved feces left in ancient cave soil, reports NineMSN.
"[Ancient gut flora] do appear to be different," said Cecil Lewis of the University of Oklahoma. "My first hypothesis would be that chlorinated water and antibiotics fundamentally changed human microbiomes."
Interestingly, researchers found that ancient human gut bacteria is more akin to what is found in the guts of non-human primates, such as chimpanzees. By comparison, the intestinal contents of modern humans appear more depleted and sterilized.
"The association between antibiotics and obesity is important to explore," added Lewis. "It's too early to tell if it's a good idea to repopulate our guts with bacteria. But it's certainly an important idea that requires investigation."
If repopulation of gut bacteria does prove to be a viable solution to obesity, then it may not be long before doctors are prescribing microbial soups to their patients based on the fecal bacteria that Lewis and his team discovered in the intestines of mummies. It's an idea that may make your stomach churn in more ways than one.
Interestingly, the content and diversity of our gut bacteria has not only been linked to obesity and metabolism, but it has also been linked to mental health. For example, our floral content has been shown to help control depression and anxiety, and likely plays a crucial role in the regulation of our brain chemistry.
Growing research on the importance of our gut bacteria has even prompted the creation of a new social network that connects people based upon the floral content of their guts, called MyMicrobes.