by Haily Tran '16
"This spring I saved a friend from a terrible illness, maybe even death. No, I didn’t donate a kidney or a piece of my lung. I did it with my stool." [image via]
We’re all familiar with the fibrous substance our bodies excrete on a regular basis. You probably don’t think twice about flushing it down the toilet. But, here’s a thought: human fecal matter has been used in more than 3,000 medical procedures around the world to cure various gastrointestinal illnesses. (1)
Our digestive system is home to over 20,000 different species of good bacteria, most of which accompany our digested food waste out of the body (2). A sample of healthy human feces is the densest bacterial ecosystem in nature—trillions of strains versus the mere 30 found in the best probiotics (3). Fecal microbiota is a burgeoning field of research as more scientists look to Mother Nature for ingenious medical solutions rather than synthesizing them in a lab.
by Denise Croote '16
Believe it or not, cannibalism isn’t a thing of the distant past. As recent as the 1950s, villagers on the island of New Guinea actively practiced cannibalism. After the death of a loved one, relatives gathered to bless and consume the body. The women and children led the ceremony, while the males refrained from partaking in the feast. Interestingly, the women and children started to develop an unrecognized neurological disorder, while the males did not. Kuru, as they called it, was a disorder in which the infected individual shook, failed to complete simple motor commands, and refused nourishment.
The natives claimed the spirits sent Kuru to them as a punishment, but Michael Alpers, an Australian medical researcher, wasn’t convinced. Dedicating his entire life to investigating Kuru, Alpers made a shocking discovery that turned our understanding of diseases upside down. Could a neurological disorder really be contagious? And could cannibalism fuel its transmission?
To learn more about Alpers and his work, watch the documentary Kuru: The Science and the Sorcery below, or check out the article "The Last Laughing Death" at The Global Mail.
By Haily Tran '16
For Brown students, fall usually means two things: lots of midterms and lots of pumpkins.
While the classic pumpkin spice latte provides both caffeine and that warm, fuzzy fall feeling of “everything is going to be all right” during those miserable all-nighters in the library, it leaves out a little known stress-reducing agent found in this special member of the squash family.