This week, we had a chalk talk where everybody in the research fellowship gave a general overview of their projects and what they were doing in their projects. The projects in the group spanned from poop to the mechanisms of the brain to immunology and other parts of the sciences. Everyone did an amazing job during their chalk talks and many of the projects got me very excited for the future of the sciences.
One of the projects that I found the most exciting was the one that Anikka is working on that deals with the gut microbiome and its link to depression. I have always been interested in mental illness and the brain but who would have guessed that mental illness and the stomach are so closely connected? I was once watching an ASAP Science video that briefly talked about the link between our guts and who we are. I did some researching online and found that about 80-90% of our serotonin is actually in our gut. This not only makes serotonin a neurotransmitter, but it also means that it is a type of hormone. That is simply amazing. Serotonin affects our mood so that explains why I feel so grumpy when I’m hungry and why I feel so happy when I eat something good or when I’m full.
Anikka’s project was also looking on how fecal transplants could also change the anxiety in rat models. That means, if you took the poop from a rat without anxiety and put it into a rat with anxiety (in an attempt to change the gut bacteria), would the rat with anxiety no longer have anxiety? Believe it or not, these fecal transplants are actually being done on humans in present day. I heard of a project at MIT that was having students donate their fecal matter in order to use it as microbiome therapy for other people.
But if anxiety can be affected by the bacteria in our guts, what else can be affected? Can you change intelligence by changing your gut bacteria? How about the fears that you have? If you take the gut bacteria of someone who loves snakes (like Dr. Grunwald) and put it into someone who is deadly afraid of snakes (like a lot of his students), will that person’s fear of snakes and their sympathetic nervous system response to snakes be different? These are some of the thought that ran through my head as Anikka was giving her presentation. I hope that I can soon find out what some of the results say.