Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center

...what we can learn from poop? (with Ryan Rampersaud)

December 07, 2022 California Science Center Season 3 Episode 24
Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center
...what we can learn from poop? (with Ryan Rampersaud)
Show Notes Transcript

Earlier this year we spoke with Dr. Ryan Rampersaud, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco to figure out if your gut can really talk to your brain. He told us about the microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract, collectively known as your gut microbiome, and how they're able to send messages all the way up to your brain. Now, during that interview, Ryan mentioned that the quickest way to understand what's in the gut microbiome is to collect a stool sample. Poop there it is! Not only did we have questions about how a poop sample is collected and studied, but...

 

Ever wonder if your poop can tell doctors about your health? 

 

So pull up a stool because in this short, Ryan will help us get to the bottom of this question. I know, I know poop puns may not be my favorite, but they're definitely number two. Here's more of our host, Perry Roth-Johnson, continuing his conversation with Ryan.



 

Have a question you've been wondering about? Send an email or voice recording to the podcast team to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes.


 

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D Hunter White:

Hello, this is Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center. I'm D Hunter White.

Speaker 1:

Earlier this year we spoke with Dr. Ryan Rampersaud, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco to figure out if your gut can really talk to your brain. He told us about the microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract, collectively known as your gut microbiome, and how they're able to send messages all the way up to your brain. Now, during that interview, Ryan mentioned that the quickest way to understand what's in the gut microbiome is to collect a stool sample. Poop there it is! Not only did we have questions about how a poop sample is collected and studied, but ever wonder if your poop can tell doctors about your health? So pull up a stool because in this short, Ryan will help us get to the bottom of this question. I know, I know poop puns may not be my favorite, but they're definitely number two. Here's more of our host, Perry Roth-Johnson, continuing his conversation with Ryan.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

You mentioned you find things in people's stool, so how are you studying people's microbiome in your study? Are you digging through their poop? Ryan, what's happening?

Ryan Rampersaud:

Sure. Get ready. Everyone's always, uh, amazed by this one. So, you know, the, the quickest way to understand what's in the gut microbiome is to collect stool sample.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

No way.

Ryan Rampersaud:

Um, because it gives you a little bit of a snapshot...

Perry Roth-Johnson:

Uhhuh.

Ryan Rampersaud:

...of what's living there. Right? And so then, you know, how, how do you, you got a stool sample, what do you, what do you do to get the information out of it? Um, and so there are a couple of ways, right? You can sequence all of the DNA right, that's in that stool and then using, you know, complicated computer algorithms and mm- hmm and things that are beyond my understanding sometimes, um, identify like who's there mm-hmm or the functions that are there. But before people could do that, right? Before we had the technology to sequence everything, um, you used to have to grow things in the lab. Um, and that's what I have done for a very long time, which is to just grow bacteria uhhuh. And so one of the things that we like to do in, in our study as a compliment to the, the sequencing piece is to actually try to grow a bunch of stuff bacteria directly out of the stool samples.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

So you're like swabbing the poop and then swabbing like a Petri dish or something? Sorry, I'm not a biologist.

Ryan Rampersaud:

So we take, we take a small sample of the stool.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

Yeah.

Ryan Rampersaud:

And we mix it up.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

Uhhuh.

Ryan Rampersaud:

Uh, with, um, you know, some, some special, you know, mixture mm- hmm, and then we put it on Petri dishes. And the Petri dishes have all different kinds of things in them to support the growth of different kinds of organisms. Mm-hmm. So carbohydrates and glucose and amino acids. And we kind of mix and play around a little bit to, to isolate all different kinds of things because we wanna, we wanna study them individually and ask like, Hey, what's, what's special about you? Mm- hmm, you're in there and you're different. What's the big deal, I guess is the, is the short version.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

And so by growing them, you're able, how does that help you answer those questions? Like, okay, I found a weird thing in your poop and I made it grow. Then what's the next step?

Ryan Rampersaud:

Then we can sort of, we can ask if it produces certain things, right. We can grow it up in the lab. We can in the, in the lab, we can take cultured cells, so human cells that are like in a petri, in a dish, and we could put the bacteria on and see if different bacteria do different things to the cells. We can ask all sorts of questions. We can. Then the thing that I'm also very passionate about is using bacterial genetics so we can knock out all kinds of genes in the bacteria and ask whether or not those genes are important for something.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

All right. One last poop question and I'll stop, I promise. So this is kind of embarrassing, but one of the habits I picked up in the pandemic was watching morning news, like I never did it before, but all of a sudden I have a TV family that I visit every morning at seven, and I keep seeing this commercial for a company called Cologuard where you, if I understand it correctly, you basically like poop in a box and they analyze it to tell if you might be at risk for, for cancer. Do you imagine a future in which you could have something similar for your microbiome? Like you could poop in a box and analyze if there's something wrong with your, with your, your health?

Ryan Rampersaud:

It's a really interesting question. Um, and I think it would be, it would be fantastic to use it as a diagnostic, right? That's what we're talking about. It's like whether or not you could identify someone who's at risk for a disease or has a disease. Um, and I think in order to get to that point, I don't think it's not possible, but I do think we need to understand a little bit more about how different people with different diets and different ethnicities and races and gender and age, how their microbiomes differ. And then, you know, the study that need would need to be done would be to follow those people over time, to see if they developed the thing that you think that they would develop. And so I think it's possible, right? Because I think we're really appreciating just how intimately related the gut microbiome is to your overall health in a variety of ways. I think that we could get there, but I think it's gonna take a little while.

Perry Roth-Johnson:

Sure. That's our show, and thanks for listening until next time keep wondering. Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center is produced by me, Perry Roth-Johnson, along with Jennifer Aguirre, Liz Roth-Johnson is our editor. Theme music provided by Michael Nickolas and Pond5. We'll drop new episodes every other Wednesday. If you're a fan of the show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps other people discover our show. Have a question you've been wondering about? Send an email or voice recording to everwonder@californiasciencecenter.org, to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes.