A more promising method is to transplant bacteria from the stool of a healthy individual to a recipient. During fecal bacteriotherapy -- also known as fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT -- the donated material is checked for parasites, such as tapeworms, stirred in a saline solution and administered via a tube or an enema. The method is already recommended for the treatment of chronic diarrhea. Researchers say that it could one day also be used to treat obesity and diabetes.
Willem de Vos, from Wageningen University, recently conducted a study with 18 men who were obese and had an abnormal sugar metabolism. Half of the patients had feces from slender, healthy donors flushed into their intestines. The others constituted the control group and were given samples of their own stool.
Six weeks later, the overweight subjects who had received foreign matter had a richer intestinal flora. No less than 16 bacterial strains had shown vigorous growth. The individuals' sugar metabolism had also normalized. By contrast, there were no such changes among the individuals in the control group.
Now, de Vos is looking for particularly beneficial bacterial strains that he intends to use to develop a groundbreaking microbiota transplant. He can draw on a collection of over 5,000 samples. But these stem from people from countries like Germany, Finland and the US -- and may have been ruined by a Western lifestyle.
Microbe hunters Dominguez-Bello and Blaser have perhaps been searching at just the right location. They hope that the formula for the best fecal therapy will come from the rainforests of South America. Translated from the German by Paul Cohen