Searching for the lost bacteria

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MIT researchers travel the world collecting stool samples from indigenous people who still have a very rich microbiota. This report will show how the people furthest from the modern world can help those made sick by civilization.

  • €9,000 Budget in Euros
  • 2019 Final release date
  • 2 Round winner
  • 1 Location
  • 2 Durations in months

It's a race against time that the Global Microbiome Conservancy has started. This MIT project aims to preserve our microbiome, threatened by our industrial way of life. As we know, the disappearance of these bacteria favors the development of metabolic, autoimmune, allergic, and more diseases.

By setting up a bank of bacteria, the MIT researchers hope that treatments for these modern diseases can be developed. This project illustrates multiple topics around the MIT research. First, there is a biodiversity that we do not know and which is yet very close to us: bacterial biodiversity. This ignorance weakens us since more and more studies show a link between a depleted microbiota and many diseases.

Second, the project shows that, for once, it is not researchers from the modern world who come to bring their "science" to the most disadvantaged and save them from diseases that have disappeared among us. On the contrary, MIT researchers attend meetings of indigenous peoples because they are holders of wealth. By agreeing to put these bacteria in a biobank, these peoples protect themselves from future damage to civilization and they can also come to our aid.

There is also an ethic aspect to the project: indigenous peoples retain ownership of their samples and all commercial development of a drug cannot be done without their authorization. At a time when scandals of biopiracy is breaking out, it seems interesting to highlight this aspect, and how the research teams local people are involved in the project.

The meeting with these peoples having lifestyles very far from ours will also be at the heart of the project: How do they live? How do they perceive us? How do they react to the fact that they have "wealth" that we have squandered?

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