Sewage Bacteria Reveal Cities’ Obesity Rates

Urban ‘microbiome’ can offer glimpses into disease trends.

Sampling the waste in a city’s sewage system can be a good way to study the microbes that live in the population’s guts – and could even offer a way to monitor public health issues such as obesity, according to new research.

The community of microbes that live in a person’s gut, known as the microbiome, is intricately tied to that person’s health. The microbiome can influence, and be influenced by, a range of characteristics such as weight, disease, diet, exercise, mood and much more. But it can be difficult to draw large-scale conclusions about what constitutes a “healthy gut” because of the financial and privacy implications of sampling large enough numbers of people.

So a team of researchers led by Sandra McLellan at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Mitchell Sogin at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, set out to test whether they would be able to spot human microbes lurking in the soupy mix of municipal sewage systems, and thus sample entire cities at once. Read more at Inside Science.