Science on Tap, which happened in Tel Aviv last Weds. eve, was as great a success as ever. Ariela Saba, one of our Weizmann writers, attended one of the talks. Here is her report:
Right around now – in some 55 bars all around Tel Aviv and Jaffa – Weizmann Institute scientists are starting their talks. Some of the patrons are in the middle of dinner; others are already sipping after-dinner drinks. Here in The Container at the Jaffa port, Dr. Eran Elinav is just warming up. From where I am sitting, I can see into the kitchen: Plates are making their way out laden with fluffy white bread, butter and olives; fish and seafood and Middle Eastern appetizers. From the tables the food will soon be making its way into the stomachs of the diners. As they chew on their bread, fish and vegetables, they will hear Elinav talk about the connection between what they eat, the personal mixture of bacteria they are carrying in their guts, and their health. To demonstrate, he points out that many Japanese host a type of bacterium that is known to break down seaweed better in their digestive systems than in those of people who were not raised on a traditional Japanese diet. Meat eaters have a different mix of gut bacteria than vegetarians. So what you eat might matter less than what happens in your body as your food is digested. You can even stay thin or gain weight from eating lettuce, depending on the amount of sugar that is produced in the meeting taking place between your personal assortment of bacteria and your diet.
On top of shaping our tendency to gain or lose weight, those bacteria can help the body overcome disease. Good bacteria can even be implanted to fight off the harmful ones. Changing the composition of a person’s gut bacteria is much easier that changing his genes; this is one of the reasons that research into these bacteria has attracted so much attention around the world.
By now, most have finished eating and drinking. Now, we are all asking ourselves some questions about bacteria – those microorganisms that live in masses inside our bodies. We start thinking about how they can help, as well as hurt. We think about the future, in which each of us might know our own bacterial makeup and use it to understand what diet works for us. Working toward that future, 400 people have already participated in a study conducted by Elinav and Prof. Eran Segal at the Weizmann Institute, and another 2000 have signed up. And another thing: Those bacteria that aid our health, because their composition is unique to us, could be used like DNA tests and fingerprinting to give away our presence in criminal investigations. And what is left? Sex. In a study done on flies, it was discovered that flies are more attracted to potential mates with similar mixtures of gut bacteria. Could the same be true for humans? Could we fall in love with someone because we are attracted to their bacteria? Only the bacteria know for sure.