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Gut Farm



I was very intrigued by a crowdfunded, citizen-scientist project to “characterize the microbial diversity of the Global Gut.” Those that have donated will receive a sampling kit and instructions on how to collect stool samples. Once sent back to the lab, the samples are then genetically sequenced to create a portrait not only of your own gut flora but also, if you chose the pricier options, your entire family and furry pets, ultimately mapping a heretofore underexplored ecological system, a microscopic yet planetary-crossing garden of bacteria, viruses, eukaryotes and fungi.

Phase I has already been funded and is closed to volunteers, but you can still join in the fun in Phase II. I'd be curious to hear what the diversity of this microbiome has to inform us about geography and food systems (or vice versa).

Meanwhile, this reminds me of an interesting research from 2006, in which scientists at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology “put bacteria to work, powering a tiny rotary motor etched out of semiconductor material,” as The New York Times described their work. Nearly akin to shire horses harnessed to a horse mill, “[t]he bacteria glide along a circular channel attached to a 20-micron-diameter rotor, turning it at a rate of roughly 2 r.p.m.”

According to one of the scientists, the goal “in the long distance is to make a medical machine, something like Proteus,” referring to the miniature submarine in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. In the middle distance, perhaps they could coat a volunteer's intestinal tracts with bacteria-driven nano-motors. His gut flora having been cultivated to extraordinary verdancy, thus churning his mechanic hortus conclusus into full throttle, he'll be able to power an iPad.

How about programming it into a stool battery factory. On some nights, he takes a shit in the garden to power his outdoor light fixtures. The entire urban waste infrastructure will have to be rethought.

In Phase X of the Global Gut project, participants will be mailed an assembly kit. They only need to swallow it. Once ingested, they'll be part of an international mass cyborgification of a human organ, later forming part of a cloud network. It's the gut server farm.

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