RePOOPulate: How Fake Poop Can Cure Patients' Stomach Ailments

Using something called a "robo-gut," scientists have made ersatz fecal matter to help fix stomach ailments. It’s not the most glamorous invention, but if it works…

Fake poop: It’s not just something that elementary school kids love to play with. It can also keep people healthy. Emma Allen-Vercoe, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, revealed in early January that her synthetic poop, dubbed rePOOPulate, can cure gastrointestinal infections caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile (CDI) that can trigger severe diarrhea. Usually antibiotics can wipe out CDI, but in particularly bad cases, they don’t work.

Allen-Vercoe’s artificial stool study, published in a new peer-reviewed journal called Microbiome, comes after years of the microbiologist’s work on a "robo-gut," a glass and stainless steel system that mimics the large intestine and houses trillions of microbes. The robo-gut allowed researchers to create the synthetic stool, which is made up of 33 different kinds of bacteria.

According to NPR, the bacteria came from the stool of a 40-year-old woman who hadn’t taken antibiotics in a decade. Researchers grew bacteria from the poop, sequenced their DNA, and picked the healthiest types to make up the rePOOPulate.

In the study, Allen-Vercoe and her colleagues gave two patients suffering from antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile the artificial stool via colonoscopy—to get a little more graphic, they had the stuff infused into their right and mid colons. It worked. The patients started pooping normally in two to three days, and remained symptom-free after six months. Turns out, all the patients needed was something to replace all the unhealthy bacteria in their intestines with healthier varieties, and rePOOPulate did the trick.

While more research still needs to be done, the study authors conclude in the paper that "a synthetic stool (stool substitute) may be an effective and feasible alternative to the use of defecated donor fecal matter (stool transplant) in the treatment of recurrent CDI." Not only that, but rePOOPulate could theoretically help with any number of ailments that have links to the digestive system, including obesity, celiac disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disorder.

Fecal transplants are becoming more common. The Mayo Clinic alone has done dozens of them since 2011. So if you think you have a particularly healthy digestive system, your poop could eventually be worth a significant chunk of change in the fecal transplant market. Really.

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  • gregge

    So how much does a dose of synthetic feces cost?

    Just shooing up an enema of a healthy person's crap won't do the job. The article states it was put into the right and mid colon. The only way to get it there is with an endoscope, after cleaning out with (as Dave Barry called it) a 'nuclear laxative'.

    Antibiotics can foul up your normal intestinal bacteria. When they're healthy and all the right varieties are present, your intestines work correctly, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence and strong smell are less common.

  • Epi Nephron

    Very disappointed in this.  Fecal transplants are incredibly cost-effective, but if doctors back off and use pharma-produced patented products it will drive the cost of the procedure up, needlessly.   I understand that this makes for a more predictable composition, and allows control of adventitious agents, but there is no reason that screening and testing couldn't work. 

  • Beatrice

     Agree and don't agree. I'd like to see rePOOPulate available by Rx as an enema, which takes the mechanization out of the equation. It's my understanding that these effective bacteria are not available because they can be lethal if ingested orally, and apparently the public is deemed too stupid to not take an enema orally. And....if you REALLY want a poop transplant and have someone's poop in mind, well, just get a sample and make an enema out of it yourself. Free.