Probiotics are live microorganisms theorized to promote gut health, although that benefit hasn’t been conclusively demonstrated. At the moment, yogurt and kombucha are the poster foods for probiotics, with fans claiming they ease indigestion. However, popular probiotic formulas of the future might stem from a very different source: baby poop. In a study released Thursday in Scientific Reports, scientists say a probiotic “cocktail” derived from gut bacteria found in infant feces is an impending therapeutic option.
This isn’t a cocktail of a shaken and stirred variety. Study co-author and Wake Forest School of Medicine assistant professor Hariom Yadav, Ph.D. explains to Inverse that, while it can be “fed orally,” the cocktail is a mixture of isolated probiotics that have been extensively purified in a lab and verified for safety.
While the new study examined what happened to mice after they received the mixture — there hasn’t been a study on humans yet — Yadav says that “we are also planning to put these probiotics in yogurt, kombucha, and several other mediums for human use.”
Again, these are the probiotics derived from baby poop.
This story really begins at Bright Horizons, a day care center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was there that Yadav and his colleagues collected 34 poop-filled diapers from the facility’s bins. The scientists were able to isolate 321 samples of two gut bacteria strains with probiotic attributes from the feces: Lactobacillus and Enterococcus. They ended up selecting 10 strains from that group and mixing those 10 strains into a probiotic cocktail. While something like a fecal microbiome transplantation is given as, to use Yadav’s phrasing, “a whole fecal slurry,” this cocktail is prepared from the purified bacterial cultures, not the poop itself.
When the researchers gave mice six doses of the cocktail and examined their gut microbiome — the bacteria that live in the digestive track — they found that the mice had an increased ability to produce short-chain fatty acids. That’s important because those guys are a key component of gut health: Yadav explains that people with people with diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and cancers frequently have fewer short-chain fatty acids. Previous research has demonstrated that specific probiotic strains could help treat these diseases because the fatty acids may help restore gut health.
“It’s known that beneficial metabolites produced by gut microbiome [the short-chain fatty acids] are significantly decreased in the gut of people with diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune, inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as in the guts of older people,” says Yadav. “Hence, probiotics we have isolated increase production of these. They may benefit people with those diseases and conditions.”
Yadav also points out that baby poop is readily available — a probiotic gold mine just waiting to be tapped. He expects that his team’s isolated probiotics could be used for improving the health of individuals who are suffering from gut microbiome-related diseases, and is planning on conducting further clinical studies and collaborating with “industrial partners to bring [the cocktail] to the market.” While scientists are still pinpointing exactly why microbiome modulators like probiotics can benefit people, you might be able to slurp on some poop-derived bacteria strains before they figure that out.