Already, American Gut researchers are preparing to compare what they find in the typical U.S. gut with a few hundred people in rural Namibia, who eat what’s described as hunter-gatherer fare. Also, Leach will spend three months living in Namibia next year, and is storing his own stool samples for before-and-after comparison.
But diet isn’t the only factor. Your bacterial makeup starts at birth: Babies absorb different microbes when they’re born vaginally than when they’re born by C-section, a possible explanation for why cesareans raise the risk for certain infections. Taking antibiotics alters this teeming inner world, and it’s not clear if there are lasting consequences, especially for young children.
Then there’s your environment, such as the infections spread in hospitals. In February, a new University of Chicago hospital building opens and Gilbert will test the surfaces, the patients and their health workers to see how quickly bad bugs can move in and identify which bacteria are protective.
Whatever the findings, all the research marks ‘‘a huge teachable moment’’ about how we interact with microbes, Leach said.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.