Fake “Poop” Created, Could Cure Infections

Fake poop for good health?

It’s no load of crap, according to Emma Allen-Vercoe, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. She has developed a synthetic “poop” that can be used to treat human gastrointestinal infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile. (Related blog: “Infusion of Pseudo-Poo Cures Gut Infections in Two Women.”)

Allen-Vercoe and colleagues developed the stool from purified intestinal bacterial cultures grown in a “Robo-gut,” which, like it sounds, is essentially an artificial large intestine. (Explore an interactive of the human body.)

While the term probiotic makes most of us think of yogurt, the result of Allen-Vercoe’s research is a “superprobiotic” that could be a potent new form of treatment.

A humorous stop sign in Portland, Oregon. Photograph courtesy Sarah Mirk

Given the apropos name of RePOOPulate, the superstool could replace human fecal matter in the stool transplants now commonly used to treat C. difficile, a bacterium that can take over the gut after antibiotics have wiped out friendly bacteria, causing a host of nasty symptoms

According to a new study in the journal Microbiome, the laboratory poop has proven effective at curing C. difficile infections while offering enhanced safety and stability as well.

While traditional stool transplants have proven effective, they often contain unknown pathogens. And “that puts people at risk for future disease,” Allen-Vercoe said in a statement.

In other words, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. With the new synthetic poop, however, “the exact composition of the bacteria administered is known and can be controlled,” she said.

RePOOPulate Gives Long-Lasting Benefits

This new level of oversight means that treatment can be more easily standardized and modified to fit individual patient needs. But perhaps most important is the fact that it’s more appealing to both patients and doctors alike than traditional stool transplants, resulting in a lower “ick-factor”—scientifically speaking.

C. difficile bacteria in a stool sample. Photograph courtesy Janice Carr

There’s also evidence that RePOOPulate results a long-lasting improvement of overall gut health, with the introduced microbes persisting after treatment. “This is important because most commercially available probiotics only colonize transiently,” noted Allen-Vercoe.

The synthetic stool may even have further applications. Allen-Vercoe hopes that similar methods may one day prove useful in the treatment of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to autism—meaning that fake poop may, well, go from the number two to number one treatment for some conditions.

Stefan Sirucek is a writer, journalist, and map enthusiast. His work has appeared in the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

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Meet the Author
Stefan Sirucek is a writer and journalist who reports from both sides of the Atlantic. He's written for the Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @sirstefan.