We're all familiar with the process of inflammation. Whether it's the inflamed skin compliments of a mosquito bite, or the redness of an arthritic joint, this is a normal body reaction — and it even has some protective value, in terms of repairing damaged tissue.
But when inflammation goes on unchecked, it ultimately results in damage to the involved areas and translates into compromised function. And this same process of inflammation actually underlies many of our most feared medical conditions including Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and even cancer.
What we're also now discovering is that inflammation is strongly influenced by the very bacteria that live within us.
With that in mind, scientists have begun exploring how the microbiome — a vast array of microorganisms — varies in people in different places around the world. By doing so, researchers are attempting to see how differences in the composition of gut bacteria may relate to the prevalence of so many of our modern-day health issues.
What’s even more intriguing is that scientists are also now looking at the microbiomes of our ancestors.
Why Researchers Are Focusing On Fossilized Feces
That's right: By studying the fossilized poop of humans from thousands of years ago, researchers are hoping to provide important information about how changes in things like diet have led to differences in the microbiome over time.
In a recent study called Insights from Characterizing Extinct Human Gut Microbiomes, researchers described how by using new technology they can pretty well characterize what types of bacteria were living in the intestines of ancient humans. As the authors explain: “Retrieving human microbiome information from samples left behind by our distant ancestors would provide an ideal approach to understanding the coevolution of humans and microbes.”