We may all be guilty of causing a mass genocide, which is happening right now in our guts and in the environment.
The widespread use of antibiotics, along with diets rich in processed foods, have led to a staggering decline of microorganisms in wealthy nations. During the past 12,000 years of human evolution, we’ve shifted nature’s balance—our diets are now relatively narrow, compared to our far-distant ancestors. Recently, scientists studied modern hunter-gatherer tribes in Tanzania, Peru, and Venezuela, whose microbiota have 50% more bacterial species than those in the West. Unlike those tribes, we no longer hunt and eat wild flora and fauna.
Those from wealthier countries now eat very little dietary fiber, a limited variety of fruits and vegetables, and only four species of livestock: sheep, poultry, cattle and pigs. Worse, widespread use of antibiotics in farm animals—not to prevent disease, necessarily, but to increase weight gain and therefore the volume of meat available—means that we’re ingesting compounds that are helping to destroy our own microbiomes.
We humans are complex, composite organisms, made up of layers and layers of cells. Researchers now think that our gut microbiome is directly linked to everything: our metabolism, immune system, central nervous system, and even the cognitive functions inside our brains. It’s an inherited problem: Most of our microbiomes are passed from our mothers as we pass through the birth canal.
A number of researchers are now looking at the future of our microbiomes. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Vedanta is making gut bacteria that can be turned into drugs and counts the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as one of its investors. San Francisco-based startup uBiome has launched several at-home microbiome tests (though for the time being you need a subscription to take one). The American Gut Project, the American Gastroenterological Association and OpenBiome will track 4,000 patients over 10 years to learn about fecal microbiomes.
Investors have poured more than a billion dollars into microbiome startups since 2016.
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