By KATE McLEAN and MARIO FURLONI
Apr 11 2017
This short film is, in many ways, a happy accident. It started with a chance meeting, as a former NASA scientist running a lab out of his apartment started talking to us about an experiment: Would it be possible, he wondered, to completely eradicate the ecosystem of bacteria living in and on his body and replace it with someone else’s?
This biohacker was Josiah Zayner, and what he proposed was an extreme version of a fecal transplant. Josiah had long suffered from digestive issues and hoped the transplant might provide relief. Also, he was curious about what would happen. Fecal transplants are becoming more common but are still usually reserved for the life-threatening infection Clostridium difficile, and are performed only in medical facilities. Josiah’s plan was to check himself into a hotel and do the whole thing himself. He would take antibiotics, then use bacterial samples from a donor (including saliva, skin cultures and feces) to recolonize his body with the new ecosystem of microorganisms. When we asked if we could film the experiment, Josiah said yes. And then we had to make this film.
An undertaking like this raises some questions: Taking large amounts of antibiotics can put one at risk of dangerous infections, and ingesting feces that had not been screened for pathogens can lead to serious illnesses. We wanted to make sure the story we told communicated the risks and did not present this individual effort as some sort of miracle cure. But there were compelling reasons to explore it.
Humans tend to think of themselves as individuals, but their lives are profoundly shaped by the huge collections of microorganisms that live on and in them. Research has suggested that the microbiome affects our digestion, skin health, perhaps even our mood. There is so much we do not know about the fascinating ways that bacteria work with us, on us and in us. This is the story of one person wading into his own teeming, messy microbial ecosystem.
Video: 12:37 min