Tag Archives: Science

Slim Pickings



Recently, settling down to guzzle a few pints of foaming ale and a groaning plate full of bacon, eggs, sausage and chips preparatory to an afternoon in comfortable seats watching others taking strenuous physical exercise, a group of us were discussing the current obesity crisis. We reminisced that when we were at school, admittedly shortly after the passing of the Neolithic era, kids with BMIs (did we have them in those days?) the wrong side of average were a rarity. There was always one generously proportioned child in the class and they were fondly nicknamed fatty. These days, if the popular daily organs are to be believed, the attendance of a child at an educational establishment with a BMI below morbidly obese provokes an emergency phone call to Social Services with allegations of child cruelty.

Of course, the boom in obesity has fuelled a massive industry offering slimming aids and miracle cures – the 21st century version of snake oil – and there are billions to be made if you crack the market. These economic facts have in turn encouraged parts of the scientific community to accelerate their investigations into the causes of obesity and to develop cures.

The magazine, Science, has recently published the findings of some research conducted by people in white coats at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri . They have discovered that different types of microbes live in the guts of slim and overweight people. It seems that these microbes have a major part to play in controlling the weight of their hosts.

The researchers found four pairs of female twins, where one of the pair was slim and the other was not. From these human guinea pigs they collected faeces which contained the microbes expelled from their guts and fed the waste products to mice who had been specially bred to have no microbes in their guts (who thinks this all up?). Those mice receiving the faeces from slim women stayed slim whilst those receiving the excreta from the obese women piled on the weight. The mice were then put into the same cage and encouraged to indulge in their habit of copropaghia. The slim ones started to put on weight and the tubby ones started to lose weight but generally only if they were also fed on foodstuffs that were high in fibre and low in fat. Our modern day diet which is, typically, high in fat and low in fibre, it seems, prevents these good microbes from thriving in our guts.

Unbeknownst to me, being on the slim side of the BMI spectrum, I am carrying the key to my fortune in my stomach. As a public service I am happy to donate my waste product for a modest charge – I generally produce at least one batch a day – for the greater good of my fellow humans who have difficulties in controlling their weight. After all, we like to think we are doing our bit!