A collection of random thoughts about a film, the microbiome, and the uncertainty of life.

For the past few days I’ve been raving to my friends and family about a documentary I recently watched called Fed Up, which explores the rise of childhood obesity and finds deep roots in the American food industry. The film highlights the ways in which the food industry has sidestepped government efforts to encourage healthy choices–everything from replacing fat with sugars in those appealing “low fat” foods; to aggressively advertising junk food to children and convincing Congress to call pizza a vegetable. 

Since watching this film, I’ve been more conscious about what I consume. It turns out that there are a multitude of reasons to be aware of what you put in your body; Dr. Lawrence David studies one you might not think of–your microbiome.

This Tuesday, Dr. David shared with us his career path and his current research on nutrition and the microbiome, the community of microbes that dwell in your gut. Much of his current research involves feeding people particular foods and studying changes to their microbiomes. How do they study changes to the microbiome? You guessed it–stool samples! While I grimace at the idea of studying other peoples’ stool, Dr. David seemed to think the science is worth it. These are a couple notes I jotted down during his talk:

  1. The microbiome field is the ripe young age of about 15, birthed by the success of the Human Genome Project, which drove down the cost of DNA sequencing. Dr. David pointed out that this new field came about not from a particular hypothesis but from a new technology. Science is full of unexpected surprises!
  2. Dr. David got to go to Thailand for one summer to study his own microbiome during a year-long study. When I got over the initial shock that he took samples of his own stool every day for an entire year, I thought about Dr. David’s actual point when he talked about his experience abroad–his academic path wasn’t confined to a lab or a classroom but took him all the way to Thailand. He got to immerse himself in another culture and indulge in its street food as part of his education and career. Again, science is really full of surprises.
  3. Lady Gaga was at Dr. David’s high school prom! Just thought that was pretty cool.

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to hear from so many faculty members at Duke–about their successes and setbacks and the windy road that brought them to where they are today. All of their paths are unique, similar only in their promise of unknown adventures and a future that is never certain. And while the idea of uncertainty is daunting, I take comfort knowing that the faculty I heard from embraced uncertainty, took chances and let the currents of life lead them to unexpected places. And despite–or perhaps, because of–all that uncertainty, now they’re all doing what they love, whether that’s studying mantis shrimp, finches–or even stool samples.

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