Food made with human bacteria exists
November 08, 2018 Luke Cridland By Luke Cridland And Follow Meghan Horvath By Meghan Horvath Follow

Food made with human bacteria exists

We may associate bacteria with disease and infections, but there’s actually quite a lot of ‘the good guys’ in amongst their ranks, and a lot of them are living inside us in the form of the human microbiome.

Our gut in particular is full of tiny bacteria, trillions in fact,1 and alongside being crucial to digestion, they have a tonne of health benefits too.2

We develop our little buddies from a very young age, with some research suggesting we develop the microbiome whilst still in the womb, with our pals coming across the placenta.3,4 However, we also help the process along with what we eat. Good bacteria that we ingest are called probiotics and if your food is full of them, then that is one healthy bite to eat5.

As a result, new and inventive ways of getting probiotics into what we eat are developing, as they are microorganisms that, for most people, provide a wealth of health benefits if consumed.6 Yoghurt is a prime source of these probiotics and their subsequent benefits, but what if I told you that yoghurt made with human bacteria is now on the market? We kid you not, there is a coconut yoghurt fermented with 25 billion probiotics per serving and mostly sourced from human bacteria.7 Crazy, right?

Do you even yoghurt

Taking a step back for a moment, does anyone else remember the days where those who had to avoid yoghurt, cheese or the chocolate cheesecake you baked, were simply and ever unfortunately lactose-intolerant? We all had those friends who biologically shouldn’t have been consuming the stuff but would dig into ice cream regardless along with everyone else, post-popping a few Lactaid pills.

Today veganism, intolerances and simply preferences for non-dairy versions of the classics (because who doesn’t love coconut drink) means that new alternatives are always being welcomed. Could this new innovation in human bacteria be welcomed with such open arms though?

Well, as contradictory as it sounds, products made from human probiotics are in fact vegan; although vegans and non-vegans alike may pause at first when hearing human bacteria is involved.

Probiotics - marketing hype or healthy truth

But back to ‘normal’ bacteria in our food. Why are we eating yoghurt, as an example? Well, taste for one, but in terms of health benefits, it’s packed with probiotics, which as we’ve mentioned are the live bacteria and yeasts that are good for our health, especially our digestive systems.5 Probiotics can be found in a variety of foods too, including kefir, sauerkraut and even dark chocolate.8

Food labels, particularly for yoghurt, often boast about the thousands and even millions and billions of live active cultures that the product contains,9 making you wonder if the touted health benefits are real or if it’s simply a marketing ploy in action. Not only that, but those kinds of numbers can be a bit off-putting for someone who has only ever associated bacteria with something that’s unhygienic and unhealthy.

However, the science is indeed out there defending probiotics. As alluded to before, living inside our bodies we have roughly 39 trillion different bacteria, with trillions in our gut alone.1 With that in mind, the amount we would ingest in a serving of yoghurt would be a drop in the bacterial ocean that is the human body. But the question is - would you go so far in the health craze as to eat these beneficial bacteria sourced from other humans?

Eating your friend’s bacteria - ethical?

The argument can be made that you’re already swapping saliva with other humans when you kiss, so is adding their gut bacteria to the mix really all that different? At least now your lactose-intolerant friends can join the party and enjoy the healthy delight that is yoghurt.

Likewise, there are foods that have been around for ages which use human bacteria. Sake for example, is fermented using human saliva, and that’s been going on since the seventh century!10

Still not convinced? You ain’t seen nothing yet

New and inventive ways of creating foods from probiotics are just starting out, and sourcing these probiotics from the human body is only getting started. For example, a group of Spanish researchers have been developing sausages from distinct bacteria found in the faecal matter of infants.11 To be crystal clear, they’ve isolated only those particular strains of interest, leaving a very small sample, but they are then reproduced in petri dishes to go on to create these sausages. Not only are they harmless, they can be beneficial!12 But it can be hard to disassociate this fact from their strange origins.

The human microbiome contains loads of healthy bacteria who’ve got our backs. Technology is only really starting to tap into this wealth of nutritional resources by repurposing what lives inside us to supplement, or even recreate, entire foods. It may sound alien, but don’t all innovations that think a little outside of the box?

What do you think of this crazy concept, is there any harm in consuming something that’s already there inside you, really? Let us know your thoughts below!

November 08, 2018 Luke Cridland By Luke Cridland And Follow Meghan Horvath By Meghan Horvath Follow

References

  1. Sender, R., Fuchs, S. & Milo, R. (2016). Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS Biol. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  2. Williams, D. 9 ways good gut bacteria support your overall health (that have nothing to do with digestion). Healthy Directions. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  3. Mueller, N.T. (2015). The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends Mol Med. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  4. Davis, N. (2018). The human microbiome: why our microbes could be key to our health. The Guardian. Accessed 19th October 2018.
  5. What are probiotics? WebMD. Accessed 24th July 2018.
  6. Parker-Pope, T. (2009). Probiotics: Looking underneath the yogurt label. The New York Times. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  7. Meers, C. (2017). This yogurt costs $25 and could erupt from the jar. Healthyish. Accessed 24th July 2018.
  8. Palsdottir, H. (2018). 11 probiotic foods that are super healthy. Healthline. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  9. Our coconut goodies. The Coconut Cult. Accessed 24th July 2018.
  10. Davis, L. (2013). 7 foods and beverages made using ingredients from the human body. Gizmodo. Accessed 19th October 2018.
  11. Anderson, L. V. (2014). Sausage made with bacteria from baby poop isn’t as gross as it sounds. Slate. Accessed 8th October 2018.
  12. Rubio, R. et al. (2014). Nutritionally enhanced fermented sausages as a vehicle for potential probiotic lactobacilli delivery. Meat Science. Accessed 8th October 2018.