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Poop art: the beauty of the microbiome

Instead of flushing, Billy Apple annotated his soiled sheets of pink toilet paper with their dates of issue: July 8th, 9th and 11th 1970. “Excretory wipings” was intended for the Serpentine Gallery in London, but then put into storage. For scientists studying the microbiome—the unique combination of 30trn-50trn bacteria in each human body—such troves are gold dust. Comparing them with samples taken from Mr Apple last July, scientists at Auckland University gained a unique insight into the long-term development of a single subject’s internal ecosystem. Despite significant changes in diet, habits and habitat (Mr Apple moved from New York to New Zealand) 45% of the bacteria were unchanged. This suggests that a person’s genes actively select and maintain “core members” of the microbiome throughout a lifetime. Unfortunately there are unlikely to be any comparable studies for a while. As Mr Apple said: “Who the hell keeps their tissues for 46 years unless it’s an artwork?”

The Economist Espresso

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