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Good bacteria: Why I put my poo in the post

From BBC - April 13, 2018

"Good bacteria" - what are they, will they make me healthy and how do I get some?

To find out I took the unusual , and rather disgusting, step of donating my poo to science.

Microbes live on, and in, all of us and they even outnumber our own human cells.

But their favourite spot - and where they live in incredible numbers - is our digestive system.

That's why I posted my faeces to the British Gut Project for analysis.

"You are not exactly average, but you are not way off the chart either," its director, Prof Tim Spector, tells me.

The bacteria in my stool were studied not with a microscope, but with powerful tools to identify them by their genetic code.

It showed I was missing whole groups of bacteria. One area of concern was my Firmicutes, as I had fewer than other people.

"They are generally the ones that have your beneficial microbes in it, suggesting you have got less general diversity than the average person," Prof Spector told me.

"The less diversity you have, the less healthy your gut. It's not a good thing."

A deeper trawl uncovered I had high levels of Akkermansia, which "is generally seen in people who are lean and healthy". But I was also harbouring those linked with inflammation.

There is growing interest in understanding the health consequences of the microbiome.

The microbiome

More than half your body is not human

Are "bad" bacteria or too few of the good ones causing disease?

Prof Spector argues the microbiome is the "most important, exciting thing in medicine today" and that "diversity" - having as wide a range of different species as possible - is key.

Clearly I could do with some improvement. So here are the tips I picked up along the way while making The Second Genome series.

Fibre, fibre... fibre

Researchers Eric Alm and Lawrence David have some of the most studied microbiomes on the planet.

They spent a year analysing 548 of their stool samples.

Lawrence David, an assistant professor at the Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, said diet had the biggest influence on the microbiome - and one thing was especially effective.

He says: "One of the leading sets of molecules that people are getting excited about have to do with plants, specifically fibre.

"It's what at least some bacteria in the gut love to eat."

He says plant fibre is likely to benefit most people's microbiome, though he admits the study has just made him feel more guilty about the food he eats.

"I still eat hamburgers and chicken nuggets," he confides.

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Chain reaction

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