Human poo from around 2,000 years ago may hold the key to relieving chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Researchers have been investigating the correlation between ancient microbes once found in our ancestors’ digestive systems, diets in a bygone era, and how this could affect rates of chronic illnesses.
It’s a field that regularly runs into a problem: human faeces from thousands of years ago isn’t exactly easy to come by. However, eight samples were recently found in Mexico and the southwest of the US, said to be ‘exquisitely preserved’ thanks to the desert conditions where they were found. They’re between 1,000-2,000 years old.
In a new study published in the Nature journal, scientists from the Joslin Diabetes Centre in Boston found pre-industrial gut microbiomes (the bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses found inside your gut) back then differed to ours today.
These are key to digesting food, fighting diseases and keeping our immune systems regulated. However, after reconstructing hundreds of microbial genomes, the team noted how ancient and modern non-industrial genomes are better at metabolising starches, and may be capable of relieving a number of chronic conditions, whether it’s diabetes, obesity or autoimmune diseases.
A non-industrial diet is ‘characterised by consumption of unprocessed and self-produced foods, limited antibiotic use and a more active lifestyle,’ according to the study.
Aleksandar Kostic, co-author of the study, told CNN: ‘When [microbes are] gone we’re missing a key piece of what makes us us… we could reseed people with these human-associated microbes.’
While research in the field is progressing, there’s still a lot of work to do. However, it’s hoped the US Food and Drug Administration will approve fecal microbic transplants soon.
Currently, there’s nothing experts can do to resurrect extinct microbes to today’s gut microbiomes; that said, Kostic is looking into whether certain microbes could be introduced to the human gut, which could be reconstructed using synthetic biology.