The news traveled through the science twittersphere like a bad burrito – you can sell your poop for big bucks! Rachel Feltman’s article in the Washington Post got all sorts of people interested in selling their, ahem, solid waste to a company called OpenBiome, which collects, banks and distributes fecal matter to hospitals, which use it to perform fecal transplants on patients with hard-to-cure C. difficile infections.
Alas for most of those who wish to cash in rather than flush away, would-be sellers have to pass stringent tests and also live near the company’s headquarters. And at the moment, there’s no demand for cat poop, although many of us collect lots of it every day. Darn.
Nature has published a comment by William P. Hanage suggesting ways to inoculate oneself against the hype associated with the burgeoning field of microbiome studies. As Bethany Brookshire (aka, SciCurious) notes, these questions should be applied to any and all research, not just the microbiome.
1. Can experiments distinguish differences that matter?
2. Does the study show causation or just correlation?
3. What is the mechanism?
4. How much do experiments reflect reality?
5. Could anything else explain the results?
–paraphrased from William P. Hanage in Nature
Over the last several years, scientists have made huge strides in understanding the microbiome – that is, the community of microorganisms populating our air, water and soil, as well as our bodies. In a blogpost this week, UC Davis biologist Jonathan Eisen draws attention to two new studies of the microbiome of the built environment – one on the microbial profile of a hospital NICU and one on the relationship between architectural design and the biogeography of buildings.
Eisen points out that a thorough understanding of microbial environments is crucial to changing the widespread fear of microbes, most of which are not only not harmful, but possibly crucial to maintaining healthy living spaces. He points out, “Just as we would not argue for killing all mammals simply because one might be annoying us, we need to stop trying to kill all germs just because some do us harm.”
Since it’s Caturday, we should point out that, besides being a very smart guy, Jonathan Eisen is a friend of kitties (evidence). He has served as a senior advisor on the not-terribly-serious Kitten Microbiome Project and also compiled a handy list of more rigorous scholarship on kitty gut bug microbiology on Mendeley. And he provided us with a great excuse to re-use these lolcats.