Published November, 12, 2013
GUELPH, Ont. – Emma Allen-Vercoe and her graduate students have come to appreciate the unmistakable odour that hits when you enter their laboratory.
“When we walk in and don’t smell anything, that’s when we begin to worry,” says Allen-Vercoe, a microbial ecologist who has spent almost a decade at the University of Guelph studying what most people can’t wait to flush down the toilet.
Feces provide a window on the vast community of bacteria, fungi and viruses living in the human gut, an ecosystem Allen-Vercoe finds more intriguing than anything in the tropical rain forests or world’s oceans. “It’s the most diverse and densely populated ecosystem on Earth,“ she says.
The human “microbiota” or “microbiome,” as the trillions of organisms are collectively known, is critical to good health. And the microbes do a lot more than help digest food. Mounting evidence indicates they also offer protection against asthma, pathogens, allergies, diabetes and perhaps even certain forms of autism and cancer.