The genetics of poop and how it can help our health – and threaten our privacy

p mfpt
Credit: BBC

Everyone pees and poops. We excrete metabolites, vitamins, microbes, and even our own cells. This information makes its way into a wastewater treatment plant, creating a community-wide stool or urine sample. Wastewater epidemiologists can leverage our waste to detect disease outbreaks, drug use, and more. So what exactly can we detect and how is this information protected?

However, using sewage to monitor a community’s lifestyle and general health may seem, to many, more intrusive than monitoring disease outbreaks. At the University of Queensland, scientists were able to predict socioeconomic information using wastewater. This group of researchers used biomarkers from wastewater to predict 37 characteristics from the Australian Census including median age, education, and employment.


The Sewage Analysis CORe group Europe put together a set of guidelines addressing ethical research practices for sewage epidemiology noting that there’s historically been little oversight by research ethics committees as wastewater data is not collected on individuals. Some of their mitigation strategies include aggregating samples from multiple sites, and removing names and locations of sampling sites.

Related article:  Debate emerges over using CRISPR gene editing to prevent opioid overdoses
Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Wastewater based epidemiology has the potential to gauge the health of our cities, but before reaping the benefits, scientists should also weigh and address the concerns. Sewer data used for research to understand population trends is much different from using the data for policy or punishment.

Read the original post

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
GLP Podcasts
Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Do you know where biotech crops are grown in the world? This updated ISAAA infographics show where biotech crops were ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

* indicates required
Email Lists
Send this to a friend