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Scientists look to mummies in search of obesity cure

Lianzi Fields
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Ancient mummy remains

In the hunt for a modern cure for obesity, scientists in the US are analysing the 'gut flora', or the microorganisms living in the intestinal tract, of mummified corpses over 3000 years old.

According to a report this week in the journal New Scientist, it could be that the widespread use of antibiotics in modern society is making us fat.

The report suggests that antibiotics are causing permanent changes to the"live bacteria" inside our intestinal tracts, increasing our risk of obesity, and damaging our immune system.

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are now hunting for ancient faeces among the soil in caves and inside the intestines of mummies in North and South America in the belief that a possible cure may exist in the introduction of bacteria from an era before antibiotics into our intestines.

Related article: Are you getting enough fibre?

DNA analysis of the ancient bacterial samples has led to the discovery that gut flora from the older sources is in fact quite different from those in modern people and is more akin to those found in non-human primates such as chimpanzees.

"They do appear to be different," said Cecil Lewis of the University of Oklahoma. "My first hypothesis would be that chlorinated water and antibiotics fundamentally changed human microbiomes."

"The association between antibiotics and obesity is important to explore," he said. "It's too early to tell if it's a good idea to repopulate our guts with bacteria. But it's certainly an important idea that requires investigation."

Watch a video on the Pros and Cons of Probiotics


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