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What are you doing to the microbes in your gut?



Lactobacillus casei, a microbe found in dairy products, the human intestine and mouth. Source: Flickr, user: ajc1

There are a hundred trillion cells in our body. You might think that most of the cells are human, but in fact, 90% of these cells are tiny microorganisms like bacteria that we can’t see with the naked eye! But where do these microbes come from, and what are they doing in our body?


Source: Wikimedia Commons, user: BruceBlaus

All mammals, including humans, are usually born free of bacteria and other microbes. However, shortly after birth, babies become colonized by microbes that come from their parents, the food they eat, and the environment. The colonization of our gut by microbes continues throughout our entire lifespan. The population of microbes in our gut tends to become more complex as we get older and start consuming solid food.

Now that we know a bit about how we obtain these microbes, how are they affecting us?

 Most of us reading this blog have “Westernized” or modern lifestyles, where we have access to clean water, processed food, modern medicine, and hygiene. This does not mean that our environment is completely sterile, but as it turns out, the gut microbe population is less diverse in people in Westernized populations compared to rural populations.

 So why is this important?

Lower diversity of microbes in our gut is associated with autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as conditions like multiple sclerosis and autism. It may also explain why there is a higher prevalence of conditions like asthma and allergies in modern society.

 Watch the following video which showcases our interview with Dr. Laura Parfrey, a researcher in the Departments of Botany and Zoology at UBC, to find out more about how our lifestyle influences our gut, and more importantly, what we can do to make our gut microbes more diverse.

Source: own work

Dr. Parfrey recently found that the diversity of gut microbes differs between Westernized populations and rural populations. She specifically looked at eukaryotic microbes, which are essentially all the microbes that aren’t bacteria, and found that the Western population had a much less diverse set of microbes! This may help explain the increasing prevalence of autoimmune diseases and allergies in modern society. According to Dr. Parfrey, there is still a lot that we still don’t know about how microbes affect our health, and she explains further research questions and why she finds her research interesting, in the following podcast:

Source: own work

So, there are lots of microbes in our body, especially the gut, and they’re affecting our health more than we’ve thought previously! In order to keep our gut microbes healthy and diverse, people can avoid overemphasizing hygiene with their kids; and as for adults, people can incorporate more diverse sources of food into their diets, especially diverse sources of complex carbohydrates.


Stay away from Giant hogweed

Giant hogweed is invasive and noxious weed that can grow up to 4-5 metres tall and blooms in mid-May through July. This beautiful tall plant was originated from Asia and Eastern Europe and was brought to Ontario as an ornamental plant;  now it is becoming more common in Southern and central Ontario.


Giant hogweed Source: wiki common

Giant hogweed has a sap that contains toxin and the toxin in the sap can cause painful blister when the sap is on the skin and when it is exposed under sunlight your skin is going to experience serious skin burn. If the sap gets in you eyes, it can cause temporary or permanent blindness. Therefore, it is best to stay away from the plant. However,  if you have made contact with this toxic plant, find shade or shelter that can block you from sun immediately because the sap is very reactive when it is exposed to sunlight.


symptom Source: wiki commons

symptom Source: wiki commons

It is best to go to hospital right away after contact with the sap but if you can not go to hospital right away, use water and soap to wash the skin and contact hospital as soon as possible. When you have to handle giant hogweed, wear protective clothes, gloves and eye protection to avoid the sap.

This is video of removing giant hogweed.

Source: Youtube uploaded by UTRCA


-SungHoo Jegal



Particle Accelerators are Really Expensive

Plasma inside of a Plasma Lamp, from Wikimedia Commons

Plasma inside of a Plasma Lamp, from Wikimedia Commons

Particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) or the TRIUMF facility here at UBC are massive projects. The LHC cost roughly 7.5 Billion Euros to build, and has a circumference of 27 kilometers. These facilities allow scientists to perform all kinds of experiments about fundamental physics, but they take years and incredible amounts of money to construct. Ars Technica reported on an experiment at SLAC National Accellerator Laboratory at Stanford that could help reduce the cost of these projects by helping to accelerate particles faster in a shorter distance. All current particle accelerators work by using electromagnets to give energy to a stream of particles. Different designs arrange them in different ways, but the basic design involves a electromagnets arranged around a cavity which the particles pass through. Because the various particles that are accelerated are charged, they can be manipulated by electromagnets. Speeding them up is really not all that different from spinning up an electric motor or any other electromechanical device. The most powerful particle accelerators are large circular tunnels which pass the beam through the same cavities multiple times. The bigger the tunnels can be, the more speed can be added to the particles, which is a big part of why they’re so expensive. Building a 27 kilometer tunnel is expensive in and of itself, and the cost only grows when that tunnel needs to be built with incredibly precise dimensions. With science funding flagging in most developed countries, these costs might make it difficult for researchers to get the kind of investment they need to keep making progress on fundamental physics research using particle accelarators. What the SLAC group proposes is instead to use a field of plasma to transfer energy to particles. A state of plasma occurs when atoms are stripped of their electrons, leaving electrons and positively charged atoms floating freely around each other. The SLAC group found that when a group of electrons was passed through plasma, a “wake” (not unlike the wake of a ship on the ocean) followed them, pulling more electrons with them. These wake electrons were accelerated to nearly the speed of light, drawing energy from the surrounding plasma. This technique is far less straightforward than accelerating particles with electromagnets, but it is also far more efficient, so it could allow us to build more powerful particle accelerators without requiring as much space or money. There is still a great deal of research to be done on the dynamics of plasma, but this is a promising discovery.

sick? eat s###!

Recently, Scientists and Researching physician have made poop pills a viable therapy against C. Difficile infections.

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. - NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. – NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Why would anyone in their right mind want to ingest pills filled with poop? according to the lead researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, it’s a big step from the previous methods of enemas and nose drip-tubes, which were accident-prone, especially “if people gagged and vomited, they could inhale fecal matter. “

Yikes. Why are people taking such grotesque (if not extreme) methods for treatment? what exactly is a C. difficile infection, and why is it so difficult to treat?

Clostridium difficile  is a type of bacteria that is known to cause “opportunistic infections”, or infections when the host is able to be infected easily, usually with the host being in a weakened/compromised state; in this case, most of the cases of C. difficile infections are caused by the lack of other, more benign bacteria colonizing the intestines, usually due to antibiotic treatment. This is akin to introducing wolf packs onto a sheep farm, where there are no competitors/predators for the wolves. As a result, the wolves prosper, at great cost to the sheep and the sheep farmer – a fitting metaphor for both the person infected by C. difficile , and the physician treating it, since C. difficile infections are especially antibiotic-resistant, and are prone to recurrent (i.e: multiple and returning) infections.

How C.difficile spreads- Wikipedia/CDC

The purpose of undertaking fecal transplants is to re-populate the patient’s colon and intestines with benign/helpful bacteria, thereby out-competing the harmful C.difficile. In an extension to the wolves/farmers metaphor, this would be akin to introducing more farm workers, scaring away the wolf pack and ensuring the prosperity of the farm.

Of course, the draw-back to this form of therapy is the “ick-factor”, effective though it may be.  This is why scientists have been working on a synthetic version of the bacteria flora populating our gut- dubbed appropriately, “rePOOPulate”. Research is still on-going  in the field of bacteria flora colonizing our gut; hopefully, one day someone can invent a form of therapy with all of the benefits of faecal transplants, and none of the “ick-factor”.

YouTube Preview Image  Source:Mary Greely Medical Centre, Via YouTube

– James L.

We cannot live without drinking water.

How much water do you drink a day?

Your body is composed with about 60 percent of water: Muscle consists 75%, brain consists 90%, bone consists 22% and blood consists 83% of water. However, body loses water every moment through sweating, breathing and urinating. Therefore, you should drink enough water everyday to keep adding up the amount of water you lose!

There are so many benefits to drinking lots of water a day. Water helps you lose weight. Water stops headaches, dizziness and clears skin. Also, water helps organs to be healthy. Water regulates body temperature and helps with metabolism. Are you a big fan of coffee? You can try to drink more water and stop drinking coffee. Water can make you feel energetic just like coffee, but water is healthier!

By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you do not consume enough water, you will see some dehydration symptoms. There are several symptoms of dehydration: Increased thirst, dry mouth, swollen tongue, decreased urine output, dizziness and more. If you feel any one of these symptoms, drink water. It will solve relieve your symptoms.

There are many ways you can consume water. Drinking any kind of drinks such as teas, coffees or soft drinks will help your body be hydrated; however, water is the best drink than any other drinks because it has no calories, no sugar and no food color. Also, eating water-rich foods such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, watermelon and grapefruit can keep you hydrated.

Photo of watery Grapefruit.  Photo by Flickr

Photo of watery Grapefruit.
Photo by Flickr


It depends on your weight, sex and your current health conditions, but it is recommend to drink eight 8-ounce glasses, which is about 1.9 liters, of water a day. I started two weeks ago to drink at least 1.5 liters of water a day and I try to drink a glass of water right after I wake up, to keep myself awake. Also, I try to carry a water bottle so that I can drink water anytime, anywhere. I really recommend downloading an app that helps you keep up the amount of water you drink a day. Moreover, if you cannot drink plain water, try to slice in some lemon or lime.

This video made by HealthiNation summarizes this post and reminds you the importance of drinking water.

YouTube Preview Image

Drink water and keep the doctors away.

Michelle Bak

Are you drinking too much water?

Our bodies are mainly made up carbon, but second to that is water. Water is essential to staying alive. Not drinking enough water leads to dehydration, which in turn will lead to other undesirable things. One result of dehydration is a decline in cognitive performance. According to a 2012 article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, even mild dehydration (defined as a 1 to 2% decrease in water levels in the body) in young adults can lead to a decrease in the performance of tasks that require immediate attention like psychomotor skills and immediate memory. Fortunately, long-term memory and executive function (tasks that require planning and emotional control) all seem to be unaffected. For young children and the elderly, the risks involved with dehydration are even more serious.

Staying hydrated. Image source: Wikimedia Commons-Tomasz Sienicki

Staying hydrated. Image source: Wikimedia CommonsTomasz Sienicki

Since staying hydrated is important in maintaining normal body functions and good health, it may seem like a good idea to drink as much of it as you can. Unfortunately, that is not the case. While drinking water to stay hydrated is important in avoiding negative effects of dehydration, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In early 2007, a California woman died of drinking too much water. She was competing in a radio station contest to win a Nintendo Wii, the contestant who drank the most water would be the winner. While she may have won a Wii, she lost her life.

This condition that she died of is called “hyponatremia” or in common words: her blood salt levels were too low. This means having salt concentration levels of less than 135 millimoles per litre of blood. When you drink too much water, the kidneys can no longer remove the excess water from the body fast enough. The bloodstream overflows with water which in turn dilutes the salt content. The water has no where else to go so it overflows into the surrounding cells. Most cells in the body are able to expand and swell to accommodate the incoming water.

Brain cells on the other hand, do not have such an ability. This is because brain cells are located in the skull (duh!) and share skull space with other things like cerebrospinal fluid and blood. The skulls is hard and does not expand. There is simply no more extra space for the brain cells to expand into. So when there is an excess of water entering the skull, the brain swells causing an edema. This brain swelling, or edema, leads to several problems like coma, seizures, damage to brain stem, and even death.

Cerebral edema surrounding brain tumor.  Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Cerebral edema surrounding brain tumor.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Drinking water daily is important to maintaining good health, but too much may lead to poorer health outcomes. To keep within safe water intake levels, remember that the kidney (healthy and at rest) outputs 800 to 1,000 mL of water each hour. So it’s safe to consume this much water each hour.

Jade Lu

The bugs in your guts are making you fat.

Generally when we think “bacteria” and “guts”, we think of nasty things like food poisoning or the stomach flu. But in reality, there are large amount of bacteria living in our lower digestive system – what scientists call the Gut Microflora. In fact, some recent research has shown that the bacteria living in our guts aren’t simply enjoying a tenant-landlord relationship; in fact, they may actively contribute to our overall health. A good example of this is the much-hyped “probiotics” recently being promoted as the new “superfood” essential to successful diets. As Yogurt companies have been advertising left and right,   “an exclusive probiotic culture … has been shown to survive passage through the digestive tract in sufficient amounts for Activia to help regulate the digestive system”. But is there any truth to this?

Some research has indicated that certain species of bacteria may contribute to the overall efficiency of energy extraction and affect overall levels of host obesity;  and in fact, studies in mice have shown that mice with differing levels of obesity has different compositions in their gut microflora, showing quite the correlation between bacterial colonies in the gut and obesity. This begs the question, Would changing the bacteria help make you skinnier?

 Scientific American-Volume 310, Issue 6. "How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin"

Scientific American-Volume 310, Issue 6.
“How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin”










To make a long and complicated answer short, We don’t know.  Though there has been trials done confirming the short-term effects on things related to obesity, so far no study has proven effective, as the gut microflora is a complicated subject with many facets to watch.  That being said, There are current studies in the works, so keep an (critical) eye on your news feed, and feel free to eat all the yogurt you’d like.

– James L.