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Episode 59: Why True Paleo Isn't Possible

Episode 59: Why True Paleo Isn't Possible

How similar is our modern day microbiome to that of our ancestors? It’s a question that comes up in conversation from time to time, and now science is starting to piece together an answer. 

On this “Straight From The Gut” episode, Andrea and Afif tackle a study that compares a Neanderthal’s gut to modern day humans - and debunk why it’s possible to eat “paleo” in the same way our predecessors did. (Hint: you won’t find avocados and salmon growing side-by-side in nature!)

The duo also dive into a detailed discussion about prebiotic snacks, including a new brand of cookie, healthy food equity across the country and look at an interesting art installation that puts microbes front and center. 

Questions? Ideas? Email us at or reach out on Instagram @DreEats or @BIOHMHealth

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BIOHM gut quiz


Andrea Wien: Hey, hey, hey, welcome to The Microbiome Report. I'm your host, Andrea Wien, and you are listening to another Straight From the Gut episode. These episodes are winding conversations that I have with the CEO of BIOHM, Afif Ghannoum, where we just talk about the state of the industry, new products, what ifs in the world of the microbiome, and wherever the flavor of the day takes us.

On this episode, we are getting into all about prebiotic, postbiotics foods hitting the bakery and snack aisle, specifically a company called Gut Happy Cookies, and just things to look out for as these products start to hit shelves across the country. I know it's something that we've touched on and talked on on a lot of these, but we have some new thoughts on it today, so give it a listen.

We also talk about some studies that were found, including Neanderthal poop. And then we dive into some art, some microbiome related art and an artist's take on the microbiome of her body and how she brought that to life in a very physical way for an exhibit. And then we end with a study on how viruses control the bacteria that is controlling us. So very interesting. We also talk about the movie Contagion and have a little link to some promo that they did that was pretty creative in how they used microbes to promote the movie.

As always, thanks for listening. This show is supported by BIOHM Health. And don't forget that you can get 15% off on their website at any time with the code pod15. Now let's get to the show.

Afif, how's it going?

Afif Ghannoum: Good. How's it going?

Andrea Wien: Yeah, good. We were just talking offline that I might have COVID. Not really, but maybe.

Afif Ghannoum: The symptoms.

Andrea Wien: If this is the last Straight From The Gut episode, it's been really nice doing this podcast with you.

Afif Ghannoum: There's been a few times where I've gotten sniffles. I said to my wife like, "Oh no, this might be it." And she's like, "You have allergies." I'm like, "I don't think so. I think this is it." Then she gives me Claritin and it's not... So [crosstalk 00:02:15].

Andrea Wien: Well, I have a sore throat. It's not like a typical thing that I get. So I don't know, we'll see. Fingers crossed.

Afif Ghannoum: Well, we'll be thinking about you.

Andrea Wien: Thank you. I appreciate that. If you don't hear from me, you'll know what happened.

Afif Ghannoum: All right.

Andrea Wien: I found a new company and they're actually kind of prevalent. I have never heard of them before, but they're called Gut Happy Cookies from Uplift. Have you seen them?

Afif Ghannoum: I haven't.

Andrea Wien: I found them through this article on prebiotics and postbiotics making their way into baked goods and snacks, which we have OLIPOP. We talked about them and have had Ben on the show. I'm always very wary of products that are selling me based on their health benefits, and this is no different. I think it's a pretty interesting thing, but I am still wary about it. And I just think in general when food manufacturers get into this space, they like to cut corners eventually, especially if they're acquired by someone larger.

But this company, Gut Happy Cookies, they have three different kinds. Salted peanut butter with chocolate and coconut, salted almond butter with vanilla and hemp, and a sunflower butter with vanilla and chai. And then they have a plant-based prebiotic fiber powder. I don't think they're the first ones to do this, certainly, but it does look like they have taken some effort to add a few different types of fiber.

A lot of times when we see these products, I feel like they maybe have one thing in there. That's something that Ben from OLIPOP said to be really wary of also. Like if they only have inulin, for example, that might be a red flag that they're just trying to capitalize on this trend. But this brand actually has... Let's see. One, two, five. Yeah, five different forms of prebiotic fibers, and then they also threw some probiotics in there too, because you've got to have those these days. So they're interesting. They market themselves as grain-free and keto friendly, high fiber, all that kind of stuff, but...

Afif Ghannoum: It's interesting and I'm looking at their ingredients. The ingredient label looks pretty clean. It's funny. It's GanedenBC30. I know those guys really well, which is a probiotic. That's a rock solid probiotic ingredient. So that's good.

The thing I say about any food, and this is not directed at them, what I always tell people is like, "Listen, when you're thinking about eating for your gut or any type of wellness, I'm very wary if you're doing it through any sort of processed foods." Now, when I say processed foods, I mean something that's not in its natural form, right? Because that can have a very negative connotation. But if it's a formed food. I don't know. Well, you're a nutritionist. Is that [crosstalk 00:05:09] processed foods correctly?

Andrea Wien: I agree. I mean, I agree. I think this would still fall into the category of what we talk about when we talk about fun, not food. So-

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, to me, it-

Andrea Wien:…while it's more thoughtful, it's still a snack food.

Afif Ghannoum: It's still a snack food, right? So do I think it's bad? Listen, I have a friend, he's developing a bar, right? It's kind of a similar vein to this where it would be in a different world, more kin to a candy. He's like, "It's keto this, it's non-GMO that." And I'm like, "Listen, people buying this type of product just want it to taste good. It's a luxury. It's a little bit of, I don't know, like having a Snickers bar every once in a while. They just want a chocolate bar," right? So if you're going to do that, just eat a cookie, right? Or just eat the chocolate. But don't do it...

By the way, it's fine if you're eating this and it has a billion CFU. That's awesome. The problem, to me, the example I always use, it's like blasting orange juice, which is hundreds of calories, and you go, "Well, I want the vitamin C out of it," right?

Andrea Wien: Right. Yeah.

Afif Ghannoum: If you like orange juice, that's awesome. I get it. But don't do it as a way to get your vitamin C, right?

Andrea Wien: Right.

Afif Ghannoum: That's always what I tell people is like, "You've got to be very wary because you could end up consuming so many calories in so many..." Again, this is not a knock on them, it's more just a comment on I'm wary looking at the entire category of good for you cookies and snacks. Because while I think there's definitely a place for them... And listen, if you're super thoughtful and you just want to have a cookie and this makes you feel like I can have that sort of bit of indulgence, but it's still prebiotic, it's still probiotic, awesome.

I always worry about that person that's early on in their wellness journey. They don't really know what choices to make and they think by eating quote, unquote, "functional foods or beverages," that now they're eating well. And the reality is they're not necessarily, right? They're still taking in a lot of sugar and they're still packing in a lot of not good for you things.

So I always say I think it's awesome that not only companies like this are doing these things, but the big guys like Hu Chocolate just got bought. A very sort of clean label, not really a functional chocolate, but sort of a better for you snack. Bought by Mondelez, which is one of the biggest sort of processed food snack companies in the world. Why? Because those companies are saying they've got to get into the game on the functional and better for you snacks because that's what consumers want. So I think that is good, but I always say these are great for sort of a functional type food. This actually looks very clean label. I'm sure it tastes awesome. But don't think anything like this is a replacement for eating a sweet potato. You know what I mean? It's just not.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely. It reminds me... I actually posted this to my Instagram recently and it was from Reddit from the celiac subreddit. Someone said, "Okay, I've admittedly been sleeping on Walmart. I can't believe they had all of this and for so cheap." And it's a photo of all these different gluten-free foods from pizzas to Oreos to, let's see, chips, different breads. All these junk foods, really, that are processed. Going gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean you're being healthy. I think that was kind of the first wave of this. And now we're starting to see it with probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics in different packaged foods, but it's-

Afif Ghannoum: Well, and even before that. Even before that, it was vegetarian. My wife's been a vegetarian since she was like 12, and it drives her bananas when there's all this vegetarian or vegan this. She's not some vegetarian warrior. She sort of does her own thing.

But you can be extremely unhealthy and be a vegetarian or vegan. A lot of it comes down to why you're doing those things, right? If you're trying to be a vegetarian or vegan or gluten-free for health reasons, that's awesome. But you can end up making choices, thinking you're doing the right thing, and you're really not eating any better. You know what I mean? You're actually not making the healthier choice.

So again, I think it's one of these things where it's going to be interesting to see what's shaped out of these sort of functional foods and beverages and how big they actually get. Do they get past that hardcore or not...

You did bring something up that this is sort of a pet peeve of mine. I remember we were going to hire this woman as a nutritionist, and one of the questions she asked me was... And she told me she's very picky about... I'd say an Instagram nutritionist, right? And very picky about being perceived as making the right wellness choices. And she said, "If you ever sold BIOHM at retail, would you ever sell at a Walmart?" And I said, "Well, I don't know, it depends," right, "We don't sell at retail, but maybe I would because..." And she said, "Well, I wouldn't want to be associated with companies selling at Walmart." I'm like, "Why is that? If Walmart's able to get your products and get sort of organic food they're selling a lot of and bringing it, making it accessible-

Andrea Wien: Walmart's the largest purchaser of organic food in the country.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah. And by the way, she did not know that, which I thought was hilarious. But it was a very interesting value judgment that the idea that it was okay to buy something off Amazon, but for some reason, Walmart, it wasn't okay. So I thought that was just interesting.

Andrea Wien: It feels to me like a privileged position.

Afif Ghannoum: Yes.

Andrea Wien: Everyone's talking about kind of white privilege and socioeconomic privilege. You're coming from a very privileged place if you don't ever have to step foot in Walmart. But for many people around the country, that's the only option. There's not another option besides Walmart in their community. So I think, yeah, that's very shortsighted.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, it was very wild to me. And I'm like, "But they're making it accessible and making good food options, organic food options available to sort of the true mass market. Why is it a bad thing?" And didn't have a really good answer to that. But I thought it was like, "Man, that is very, very, very wild to me." You know what I mean? It's just funny how much of this stuff is perceptions about, "This is a good food for me. This is a good retailer. Whole Foods has a monopoly on good for you foods." Not necessarily true. You know what I mean? There's a lot of great places, like the Aldis of the world, right? So I always think that's just funny. If you take a step back and really look at like, "Well, what's informing why you think that?"

Andrea Wien: Yeah. I think it is interesting too. We saw it and we do see it happen with organic that when it does get to that scale, then it creates other issues. That's not Walmart's fault. We always talk about voting with your dollar. Well, people did vote with their dollar, and Walmart said, "Okay, we'll provide organic food," which is definitely better than providing only conventional foods. Then it's like, "Okay, what problem does that cause that we then have to solve for?" But I think it's definitely a step in the right direction. We can't knock them. We can't tell people to go vote with their dollar and then when they do, say, "Well, you're not buying it from the right place."

Afif Ghannoum: A million percent.

Andrea Wien: One thing before we move on from this whole cookie thing, I think it was in a documentary and I want to say it was maybe Cooked with Michael Pollan or maybe Food, Inc. I forget. But there was a guy on there and he was talking about eating foods like this that are cookies, cakes, baked goods, and his thing was like, "Look, eat all the ice cream, all the cakes, eat it all you want. You can have it every single night. But here's the rule. You have to make it yourself. It has to be made from scratch, not out of a box, yourself." He's like, "And I would guarantee if you did that, then people would not eat as much of that because it's an investment in their time and they're just not going to take that extra step."

So I think that that comes into play here as well. When we're talking about eating the cookie, fine, have the cookie, but either make it yourself or if you're going to go for something that is packaged, don't do it, like we're saying, for the health benefits, but make it a conscious choice of, "Okay, I'm going to have the cookie, but I'm going to choose the packaged one that is slightly better."

Afif Ghannoum: Well, and again, I think it's about being mindful and informed. If you're making the cookies and you're seeing how much actual sugar you're putting into the recipe, that's going to make you think a little more. For me, we've been doing a lot of HelloFresh and actually cooking at home, and it really opened my eyes how many recipes... And these are quote, unquote, "healthy recipes," but still a lot of butter, a lot of oils, and that's fine. To your point, it's okay, but it just has made me a lot more aware of what is going into food as opposed to pre-COVID, we ate out all the time. And even seeing how much salt and things like that are added. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me intuitively. You're just going to be way more mindful about what you're doing if you're not just mindlessly grabbing [inaudible 00:14:41].

Andrea Wien: It reminds me too kind of of the money analogy. When you're trying to budget and save money, some financial advisors will say just take cash out and then put it in envelopes. Then when you are done spending the cash, that's it. And you can really see the physical transaction of money versus swiping your card. I think it's the same thing when you start cooking for yourself. You're suddenly seeing that physical, "Oh my gosh, a whole cup and a half of sugar goes into this? That's a lot." And when we talk about how many grams of sugar, I think it's five grams of sugar is one teaspoon of sugar. So you're thinking, "Okay, if I have a cup..." I'm not going to do the math on the show right now, but we're talking a lot. You wouldn't line up 30 teaspoons of sugar and eat those over the course of two days, but you might eat 12 cookies. So it's like you start to really figure out, "Oh my gosh, this is a lot."

I, in all of my recipes now, pretty much off the top, will just cut out 25% of the sugar. And I would say 90% of the time, people don't notice or it doesn't affect the final product. It's a little bit trickier when you're talking about things like cakes that need to hold their shape, but you can at least do 10% with no... I've not noticed any difference with 10% drop. So something that people can use in their kitchens.

Afif Ghannoum: Very cool.

Andrea Wien: All right, so I'm always really interested when I find these studies, and there were kind of two that linked together. When we look to the past, because I am obsessed with ancient medicine, which some of our recent episodes have been about. But also we tend to think that the microbiomes of our ancestors were superior in many ways, just because they didn't have processed foods, they were out in nature.

So there were two studies that popped up. One, the title is Neanderthal Poop Shows Clues to Humans' Microbiome. And the other one is about how scientists revived a hundred million year old life form from deep under the sea floor. So these ancient microbes are starting to be analyzed more. I think it was interesting that the Neanderthals, there were some similarities between modern-day humans and Neanderthal when they looked at different fecal samples. So just something interesting as we continue to go down this path of discovery.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, it's so funny. I was at Costco the other day and there was some brand I'd never heard of, but it was caveman something. Caveman Nutrition. I thought, "Man, this ancient sort of theme, it's now sort of officially hit saturation and feels like there's so many." Every time I hear about something like this, and I always talk about this idea of YouTube logic, right? Where you know when you hear that there's a YouTube video going around and it's getting a lot of traction, and it turns out the logic behind it, they're taking a couple of jumps and it's not actually true, right? But when you're watching it and it's presented really nicely, the logic flows very easily and you're like, "That makes sense," right?

So the YouTube logic, to me, of sort of any of these themes around ancient eating, right? I don't want to say ancient nutrition because that's a brand. But ancient nutrition, the way cavemen used to eat. It's like when... There's a meme I've seen that said, "We should go back to eating and using medication the way they did in the 1600s when people lived to the ripe old age of childbirth." You know what I mean? It's like it seems so simple and it makes a lot of sense to be like, "Well, we should just eat like the ancients did because it's naturally going to be better." And of course, of course there's many things that make sense about that logically, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the only way to eat, right?

I always feel like the Eeyore when we're talking on these topics because I'm throwing water on the ancient fire. But I always want people to sort of have a secondary way of thinking about any of these trends. You know what I mean? Just don't take things as a hard and fast rule, "This is the only way to eat it." I think the most baseline thing of ancient sort of eating that we do and should take away is really this idea of eating whole foods, right?

Andrea Wien: Yeah.

Afif Ghannoum: That makes a lot of sense. Getting way more back to basics. Like the breads that we eat now are a lot of times using such processed flours and all these things, it's really not even good for you. It's got sugar and all these things. So going back to basics on nutrition, I think that's amazing advice. But then some of these things you see where it's taking like five steps further than that, I start to kind of look side-eye sometimes.

Andrea Wien: Well, a couple different things. Are you familiar with Weston A. Price and his work?

Afif Ghannoum: I am not.

Andrea Wien: He was a dentist back... Oh, geez. I forget. The '20s maybe, I want to say. '20s or '30s. He started to notice in his practice actually here in Cleveland. He was based in Cleveland.

Afif Ghannoum: [crosstalk 00:20:01].

Andrea Wien: He started to notice in his practice that kids were having a lot more dental caries and cavities and just issues with their teeth than he had seen previously. So it really started him on this lifelong quest and he traveled all around the globe and found indigenous tribes all over the world and kind of cataloged what they were eating and cataloged their teeth. And he has this book. You can get it now. It's called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the title of the book.

What he found was that everyone ate differently, right, in these indigenous tribes. It wasn't like there was one diet. So it always makes me laugh too when we have the paleo diet and there's the sausage with the avocado with this... None of those things would have grown all in the same place, so it's impossible to say we should eat like the cavemen.

Afif Ghannoum: You've got to remember, and they were moving all the time because they would die if they didn't get food. You know what I mean? Some of these things, it's like context is critical. You know what I mean? I just think you're so right. You know what I mean? It's very important.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, I mean, the one thing that I really... I mean, there were a lot of things. It's an excellent book if anyone is interested in digging into this more deeply. I'll definitely link to it in the show notes. But he found that there wasn't one right diet. People closer to the water ate more fish. People in Alaska ate more whale or whatever it was. And I'm not advocating for eating whales, I'm just saying historically this was what the tribes did.

And then he noticed when those tribes started being introduced to westernized foods, so processed foods... And even back then, processed food is just white flour and white sugar. Within one generation, it was a complete downfall in terms of their dental health. So it's pretty interesting. It was less than like 0.5% of these indigenous tribes had any dental issues, and including the shape of their mouth and just the arch of their-

Afif Ghannoum: Do you know what's interesting? I wonder how much of that is... Because I've read articles about tropical islands that are very resource-rich and they've struck deals in the '50s for countries like the US to get access to their minerals. And as a result, they got very rich and guess what? They go to a Western diet, and exactly what you just described happened, right? So I wonder how much of it is not necessarily going away from an ancient diet, but going towards more of a US diet. Does that make sense? Because there's a lot of-

Andrea Wien: Absolutely. That's what I'm saying. Yeah, yeah. We're saying the same thing. Yeah, yeah.

Afif Ghannoum: Okay. Yeah, yeah.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, so it's not that it was moving... If you moved someone, let's say, from the Caribbean up to Alaska and fed them the Alaskan diet of the indigenous tribes there, I'm sure that they would have done fine. I think we can adapt a lot as humans. But it was more so when they introduced the white sugar and the white flour that that's when they started having problems. So yeah, when you start to move into more of what we would call the Americanized diet now, that's when you had issues.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah. Again, it's like if you look at Japan, you look at some of these other places that really, when you break it down to what is a fish-based diet, what is a rice-based diet, it's almost a whole food diet. You know what I mean? A lot of these things have a lot of commonalities. It's just really interesting.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely. We talked to Dr. Axe recently and I have kind of a list of the foods that he recommends for different things, blood building foods and chi boosting foods that he put in his book, and they're all whole foods. Berries, green, leafy vegetables, wild caught fish, carrots. So we're not advocating for these crazy ancient foods, right? I think when we talk about going back to ancient diets, it should be we're just going back to the most complete, nutrient-rich whole food that you can find.

Afif Ghannoum: 100%.

Andrea Wien: Then the other article that was in this same vein of ancient stuff was these scientists in Japan, they found these a hundred... I think it was 101.5 million year old microbes that were buried in the sediment under the sea floor. It says the center contains the oceanic pole of inaccessibility. The site on earth farthest from all land, the lowest productivity part of the entire ocean, and these microbes were found. So it really just goes to show us even in places where we think that there's absolutely no life, there's microbes that can survive.

Afif Ghannoum: I think we've even talked about this before. There's a book called We are Multitudes. We definitely talked about it, because you tried to get the author to come on, I think, early on. One of the things that struck me... And again, I've grown up around this whole thing. What blew my mind was the idea of all the microbes that we're aware of, it's like a grain of sand on a beach. You know what I mean? There's so many we're not even aware of yet to be discovered, both pathogenically and probiotic.

It's almost like COVID-19, right? That's been around. We were just never exposed to it, right? It's the same thing, it's really hard to wrap our mind around the concept of how many pathogens are out there compared to birds or something that's way more tangible and there's thousands of them. We're talking about things that there are millions of organisms we're just not even aware of. It's really wild.

Andrea Wien: Do you think eventually we'll have the super bug of the year? You know how kind of kale or acai berries or whatever. We'll continue to find these strains that we didn't know existed, and suddenly they'll be put into every single product that we have and-

Afif Ghannoum: It's already happening. That exact thing is already happening for a couple reasons. One, it's not as simple as... The nice thing about the acai berry is you sort of turn it into powder and you can put it in anything and it will pretty much work.

Organisms, even if they're good, the problem is finding that they'll survive not being frozen, they'll survive coming to your house. There's a lot of other factors that come into being a good probiotic strain that can be helpful, aside from just initially, "This seems to be a good bug."

So yeah, I think what you're going to start to see is just like you were just talking about, prebiotic. It used to be inulin was everything. Now you're seeing... I'm a member of the science and technical committee for the Global Prebiotic Association. We sort of see what's coming across the horizon and advising on the regulatory front. We're already seeing, I want to say, hundreds of different potential prebiotics that are now being studied that probably won't hit the market for five years type thing because they've got to be proven out. But yeah, it's common, this idea of strain of the year or new trendy things. It just takes a little longer because of the science that's got to go into it.

Andrea Wien: I had a kind of what if scenario with this idea too this week where I was thinking it's such a pain to have to clean your bathroom, right, and clean your shower and the floors. I wish that there was some type of strain or collection of strains that I could just spray on my stuff and it would just keep it all... Mold would be under control.

I think you're starting to see that. I did see a probiotic product at the store recently. Again, to your point, who knows if that's alive anymore and how that is working in the solution and how it works when it gets on your stuff, all these things. But there are some products where I'm like, "Yeah, let's try to do this." Maybe not that we're taking internally, but let's make our lives easier in some ways by harnessing microbes.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, you're going to start seeing that. It's already in the works. Way more of those products are coming.

Andrea Wien: Well, talking about microbes in the zeitgeist, I think once things start becoming art and... I think art, when we talk about it, is kind of one of the higher elevations of consciousness in humans and how we experience and interact with the world. There was an artist that did a whole exhibit. It was supposed to be a physical space, but because of COVID, she took it virtual. It's called What Would a Microbe Say?

Her idea was she cultured her own skin. She cultured herself. I believe it was her skin, and then cultured it in these large Petri-esque dishes on artwork and just made what is typically invisible, visible. So you can see actually what her microbial community looks like as it expands. She's doing a lot of other work in the space too, but I just thought it was an interesting take on where we're at with microbes, that artists now are starting to use it as a medium.

Afif Ghannoum: Do you remember that movie Contagion with-

Andrea Wien: Yes, I didn't see it. I didn't see it.

Afif Ghannoum: I didn't see it either because it seemed like such a bum sesh of a movie. But then when COVID hit, it was trending on Netflix. I'm like, "Why on God's green earth do you want to watch that movie now?" You know what I mean?

Andrea Wien: Right.

Afif Ghannoum: But where I'm going with this is when that movie came out, there was an artist that used that cultured... I think it was fungi. I'll send it to you. But they did a big exhibit using Petri dishes and they grew... I want to say it was in Times Square. They had a big installation and people were looking at, "What is it?" And slowly but surely, the fungi created the word contagion.

So yeah, anytime I want to feel insufficiently creative and just not artistic at all, I go on Etsy and you see the amazing stuff people can come up with. You know what I mean?

Andrea Wien: For sure.

Afif Ghannoum: But yeah, especially because different organisms can be different colors. There's all sorts of things that you could do, it's kind of interesting to think about.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, I think so too. And she was talking also and they pulled in this researcher on this article that I'm looking at about quorum sensing. So essentially how bacteria communicate with each other. That's something that she's studying in this art as well. They say if there's enough of a signal around it, it means a lot of bacteria are present. And once there's a quorum, the bacteria start behaving differently than they do as individual cells. So just starting to play around with that idea too, community even in bacteria is so different than individuals.

And she was talking about it in the sense of this artwork as what happens when I'm touched emotionally, or what happens when I have sex, or what happens when I work out. How do those bacteria start to communicate differently with each other and how do they change? So it's pretty interesting. I'm going to keep looking at her work.

Afif Ghannoum: If you look at Zoom, I found that video, which is kind of hilarious.

Andrea Wien: Bacteria billboard.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, do you see it kind of growing?

Andrea Wien: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Afif Ghannoum: It's kind of cool.

Andrea Wien: We'll link to this. We'll link to this in the show notes.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, I'll share it.

Andrea Wien: And the YouTube video.

Afif Ghannoum: Hilarious.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, it's kind of creepy, huh?

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah, it's bizarre. But literally, that video is 10 years old. I didn't forget it. Isn't that weird?

Andrea Wien: It's the things that stick in your brain. Yeah, this artist had some kind of creepy stuff too. She has some human forms inside of Petri dishes. If you actually click through... I'll link to the article that I found, and then I'll also link to the actual exhibit, which is now up for anyone to look at it online. But yeah, it's kind of weird.

All right, we have one more. I have two here that we can talk about. I'll let you choose. We have one about viruses controlling the bacterial growth of the microbiome, and then we have one where scientists have found the enzymes that make our armpits smell.

Afif Ghannoum: Let's do the viruses.

Andrea Wien: Okay. What stuck out to me with this one is it says, "Gut microbiome manipulation could result from virus discovery." So what I had in my notes about it was okay, so we know that the bacteria control us, but now we're learning that the viruses control the bacteria. So it's like how much deeper will we go in knowing what is actually at play when we're making decisions or choosing partners or whatever. It's like it's getting even deeper. We thought it was the bacteria gut-brain access, but now something's even driving those guys. So it's pretty... I don't know, I just feel like the layers keep getting peeled back.

Afif Ghannoum: And we're only going to learn more about viruses. Because viruses of the major communities in the microbiome, bacteria, fungi, viruses, we know the least for a couple of reasons. One, the machines that we use to actually test and look for organisms, they are very bad at detecting viruses reliably. So that's a problem. Because if we're not able to see them and we're not able to really pinpoint what they are and what levels they really are at, we can't really study them well.

But the other is that there's been so little funding of viruses in the microbiome, probably 100X a difference between bacteria funding versus viruses, that it's just going to take quite a while. But someone's going to do a breakout study showing viruses are very important, and then there's going to be a ton of studies backing it in funding. But those are the two kind of limiting factors.

But I'm not surprised to see that viruses are controlling one of the other organism sets. Because again, that's what we see between bacteria and fungi, so it only makes sense that this other community would be impacting it as well.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, and in this article, they talk about how it's using their own enzymes to make RNA copies of their genes. So I think we're all kind of focused on RNA right now because of this vaccine, but when we start to think about how something like this vaccine might actually impact the RNA down at that level, we kind of think of us and our DNA and our RNA as all that's at play. So it'll be interesting to see, and now we have a lot of test subjects who are getting this vaccine. How that plays out over the next 20 years, let's say, and how we start to engineer beneficial bacteria or microbes, viruses, and fungi to play in that sandbox. I don't know, it's a little bit scary, right? It feels a little bit to me like we're playing with fire in some ways, but we'll see what happens.

Afif Ghannoum: Yeah. If you start manipulating, that's a very dangerous road. I think we're already seeing that a little bit with CRISPR. So yeah, we're at the dawn of an era, my friend. It's just getting started.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, TBD, to be continued. All right, Afif. Well, thank you, as always, so much.

If anyone wants to check out more details on this, of course, we will put all of this in the show notes. And BIOHM is also offering a 15% off code now, if you head to their website, with the code, pod15. So I'll throw that in the show notes as well.

Afif, I'll talk to you next month.

Afif Ghannoum: All right, talk soon. Later.

Andrea Wien: Bye. Thanks so much for listening. If you haven't already, please consider leaving us a review and a rating on iTunes. I've made it super easy to do so. You can just click the link in the show notes, and it will take you right to where you need to be. I've also linked all of the studies and information that we've talked about in this show, as I mentioned, at And don't forget about that 15% off code when you use pod15. I'm Andrea Wien, and we will catch you next time.


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