A number of chronic diseases—including obesity, diabetes and cancer—have been linked to changes in gut microbiota, the collection of bacteria, viruses and yeasts that live in our bodies. Scientists have come to realize that the more industrialized our society becomes, the fewer microbial species seem to colonize our guts. Many of these “missing microbes” may carry out important functions.
Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, Canada Research Chair in Human Gut Microbiome Function and Host Interactions, is studying this phenomenon. She and her research team are using a system known as “Robogut” that mimics the gut environment to study the microbiomes of healthy humans from parts of the world that are not yet industrialized. They hope that restoring gut diversity might offer ways to prevent or treat disease and bring about a transformative shift in medicine.