Karina Xavier, scientist: With a stool sample “we have complete information about a person’s health”

There is a silent and invisible mass extinction, which could have a very high cost for humanity in the near future. After millennia of cooperation with humans, several species of bacteria that inhabit the human intestines began to be decimated by the diet introduced during industrialization. In parallel with the loss of biodiversity, it is the health of humans that is now in danger, says Karina Xavier, researcher at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC).

We may be losing biological potential that is important for our health”, warns the scientist in an interview with the Futuro do Futuro podcast.

Karina Xavier, researcher at the Gulbenkian Science Institute in an interview with the Future of the Future podcast

Jose Fernandes

As in larger animals, it is the breakdown of the food chain that threatens microbes. Karina Xavier gives as an example the bacteria that live in the intestines and feed on some fibers that only exist in vegetables. But if they cannot feed themselves, these bacteria cannot survive.

“If we don’t eat vegetables and only eat processed food, we lose this diversity of these microbes”, warns the IGC microbiologist.

Faced with this inauspicious scenario, scientists from Rutgers University, in the USA, the University of Lausanne and the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, launched an international project with the aim of collecting fecal samples from remote tribes in Ethiopia and the Amazon with the objective of preserving bacteria in a bunker – and ensuring the possibility of resurrecting them later. And it is precisely this project, called Microbiota Vault and with the participation of IGC, that led Karina Xavier to respond to the first challenge that we usually present to the interviewees of Futuro do Futuro, with an illustration by Joana Carvalho.

Illustration about the collection of endangered bacteria within the scope of the Microbiota Vault project

Joana Carvalho

In this drawing, it is possible to see a scientist transporting bacteria for preservation in a bunker, at low temperatures.

In work carried out in recent years, the team led by Karina Xavier managed to identify forms of communication between different species of bacteria that live in the intestines. This communication tends to reflect cooperative and competitive relationships between microbes.

Davide Bonaldo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World at Your Feet

In the second Future of the Future challenge, Karina Xavier proposes listening to a soundtrack with the sounds made by several people on a beach. The sound aims to illustrate a communication that works like Esperanto and that opens up the possibility of one day being able to manipulate the different relationships between microbes. “The bacteria that are present in our intestines are closely related to the susceptibility of various types of diseases”, recalls the scientist.

Given this certainty, it remains to be seen that doctors and analysis laboratories adapt to new approaches and diagnostic methods.When we go to the doctor, we won’t just collect blood samples; We will also collect poo samples to understand the state of our microbiota and then try to predict and act on certain diseases”, predicts Karina Xavier.

Tiago Pereira Santos

Hugo Séneca talks to brilliant minds from different areas about the brave new world that technology has in store for us. An open window to the great innovations of these and future times.

Source: Expresso by expresso.pt.

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