A Mass Extinction Is Taking Place in the Human Gut

In November 2022, Swiss scientists opened an eagerly awaited package from rural Ethiopia. It was full of shit. For two months, public health researcher Abdifatah Muhummed had been collecting stool samples from children in a remote, pastoralist community in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, as part of a global effort to catalog and preserve the diversity of human gut bacteria. He split each sample into four tubes, froze them at –80 degrees Celsius, and shipped two of them to Europe.

Trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes live in the digestive tract. Many of them are beneficial to human health—influencing our metabolism and immune system, for example. But their diversity is under threat from industrialization, urbanization, and environmental changes. When Muhummed analyzed some of the samples he’d collected—culturing them in petri dishes and adding a dye to make them visible under a microscope—he was astounded to find signs of antibiotic resistance, even in samples taken from children who had never been exposed to modern antibiotics.

That’s one of the reasons scientists want to create a global biobank—a Noah’s ark of microbes, so to speak—and permanently store samples from around the world, before it’s too late. “Of course, it is difficult to concretely say what we are losing,” says microbiologist Adrian Egli, who is based in Zurich and is part of the launch team for the Microbiota Vault project.

Source: https://www.microbiotavault.org/