Apparently, you can get away with calling your intestines your “second brain” without sounding like you’re just making a dad joke about how much you like to eat. In fact, some actual scientists refer to your guts and intestinal bacteria as such because of the role they play in countless ailments. As such, researchers are increasingly interested in understanding the finer details of that relationship — and they think that mapping our poop using artificial intelligence is the answer.
In a study published in Nature Biotechnology in January, researchers from the University of Copenhagen discussed their recently-developed technique for analyzing our internal bacteria. While we knew before that feces contain some of the billions of bacteria inside of us, we didn’t previously have the technology to model the entirety of the bacteria’s DNA structure. Instead, we could only read fragments, offering a limited understanding of its contents.
This new technique solves that problem by using an artificial intelligence algorithm capable of completing the DNA sequences found in poop samples, offering a complete picture of the bacteria. Thus, researchers are capable of now analyzing exactly which types of bacteria live in our gut, as well as their function.
Numerous other contemporary studies have linked our intestinal flora with conditions ranging from obesity and diabetes to depression, schizophrenia and autism. But without the ability to actually assess the finer details of the bacteria, scientists had few methods of studying why and how these links occurred. With the technology to analyze individual fecal samples, though, researchers may soon have better diagnostic methods and treatment options for a variety of health issues, as well as greater knowledge of their functions.
According to the researchers, this A.I. algorithm could be used for other sources of bodily data too, like blood. The technology is still in its early stages, but it could eventually make gathering massive amounts of information about the body a far easier task. Maybe in the future you’ll skip explaining your symptoms to a doctor and just give them a tiny piece of your poop, instead.