Last updated August 9, 2019 at 12:20 pm
We should probably take our poo more seriously, and a Melbourne Museum exhibition is opening people’s eyes to exactly that.
Poo and gut health might be something that rarely gets talked openly about, but that’s the exact focus of a new museum exhibition in Melbourne dedicated to your daily movement.
The exhibition, called Gut Feelings, is the collaboration of a range of researchers, individuals and medical institutes.
Its aim is to shine a light on the all-important topic of gut health – which affects your general health in ways you possibly didn’t even know.
We’ve got good feelings about this new frontier in medical science, so we talked to the curator behind the Gut Feelings exhibition.
“It’s a way to communicate accurate facts as people are exposed to all sorts of health information and advice.
Straight to the poo room
The exhibition is not only filled with the latest information, it’s also interactive which means that people can get a real feel for their insides.
“This is a new breed of health/biology-based exhibition. Gone are the days of putting a text book up on the wall! We even have touchable objects, like our 1-billion-year-old stromatolite.”
Another highlight of the exhibition is the gut tunnel. It’s 9 metres long – the same as your actual gut – and shows microbes much like jelly fish in the ocean “gently blobbing along in peristaltic waves,” describes Jo.
Then, you reach the main attraction: the poo room.
What kind of gut exhibition would it be without one?
This part of the exhibition involved consultation with experts in faecal microbiota transplant or for a lack of better words, a poo transplant (yes it’s a real thing).
They also included Bobbie Riley, a patient who received a faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).
Bobbie is a healthy looking 27-year-old woman. After being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis she is now a fierce gut health advocate.
Poo transplants are the next step in gut health
“FMTs [involve] taking poo from a healthy donor and putting it into a patient. It’s usually done to treat some form of microbe infection. The microbes from the healthy donor help to treat the patient,” explains Jo.
“We know a diverse microbiome is good for you. Different microbes can talk to and support each other, with added resilience as bad microbes find it hard to make their way in.”
Although the treatment is still relatively new, Jo explains that “the concept has been around since 4th century BC when Chinese medicine made yellow soup, which was poo soup.”
FMTs are currently being trialled for multiple illnesses – there’s the obvious gut troubles but these microbes could have much more potential.
The microbes could be used to alter our food cravings. They could also be used to treat mental health issues. Microbes could be used as personality transplants, with research demonstrating they can affect our mood, emotions and way of thinking.
“Mouse studies have shown microbes can impact whether the mouse wants social interaction or not. Certain microbes may encourage certain memory e.g. spatial/location memory versus other.”
While most people hear poo transplant and cringe, the potential of the transplant to change a patient’s life is hard to cover up.
Microbes are “almost magical”
Jo came up with the idea for the exhibition after becoming fascinated about the role of gut microbes, especially how they could not only talk to the nervous system (including the brain) but also to the immune and hormone systems of the gut and body.
Jo has a PhD in neuroscience and, prior to becoming museum curator, was a biomedical researcher looking at stem cells, gut health, genetics and more.
“New sequencing technology is allowing scientists to pick apart genetic and molecular detail like never before,” explains Jo.
“For the first time we can start to see exactly which microbes are present in our guts, and the roles that these microscopic entities (bacteria, fungi, viruses and more) have on our minds and bodies.
“The effects they [microbes] have on our body is almost magical. They talk to our immune, hormonal and nervous systems.”
She trusted her gut and started talking to researchers, patients, doctors, and medical institutes from around Melbourne and the world to create the exhibition.
While learning more about the latest research, Jo also hopes that the exhibition will break some of the taboos that surround gut microbes and poo.
“Now we know the wide-reaching effects of gut health, it’s more important than ever to talk about it,” she says.
There’s also hope that people can learn about the importance of microbes in the outside world.
“There’s also this misconception that we need to be killing 99% of germs all the time. Not true! In fact we need a helpful balance of microbes not only in our gut but anywhere the outside world touches – skin, eyes, nose, ears, etc,” says Jo.
Museum exhibitions, like Gut Feelings, are fantastic opportunities for public health. A change to get up close and personal with the human body, in new ways.
Gut Feelings will continue running until 2020.