THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

BACTERIOTHERAPY

photo of an IV and tube

If the Anthropocene describes a pervasive human signature on the planet's physical systems, then what mark does the Anthropocene leave on human bodies? What happens to the human organism when it consumes the products of the Anthropocene? Large-scale industrialized agriculture has dramatically reshaped planetary ecologies. We can find the Anthropocene in vastly altered nitrogen cycles; in the greenhouse gases generated by energy-intensive inputs, mechanization, and transportation; in the antibiotics and organic chemicals persisting in global environments; and in the vast land-use transformations associated with monocultures and feedlots. But we also can find the Anthropocene in the human body. Industrial agriculture produces industrial diets. When humans consume the fruits of the Anthropocene, we also transform our internal ecosystems: the microbiomes of our guts. Fecal bacteriotherapy today is used to treat antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile. But its remarkable effectiveness at restoring intestinal microbiota also suggests that fecal transplants embody a kind of micro-scale tool for ecological restoration in the Anthropocene. Much as restorationists work to undo undesirable anthropogenic traces in the environment, fecal transplants can restore microbial populations disrupted by industrial diets. I propose the fecal transplant as one possible artifact of a literally embodied Anthropocene.

Presenter