Today in Overselling the #microbiome: Lick-hiker’s guide to Inner Strength

Well, thanks, I think to Christie Aschwanden https://christieaschwanden.com for pointing me to this.

Valio unveils Lick-hiker’s Guide to Inner Strength with travel presenter Ian Wright – hasan & partners

https://player.vimeo.com/video/171063576

Valio – Gefilus Trailer from hasan & partners on Vimeo.

From the Press Release

International travel presenter Ian Wright is on a mission to seek out and lick the dirtiest locations in Europe for The Lick-hiker’s Guide to Inner Strength, a campaign that promotes the virtues of Gefilus, a good bacteria product range by dairy giant, Valio.

Simultaneously almost certainly over-promoting the benefits of this one probiotic and also the risks of licking things all over the globe.

Our 25-minute documentary sees Wright’s tongue come into contact with places that harbour bad bacteria – all in the name of testing immunity, gut health, and science. These include a metro station, public toilet, telephone, kindergarten, river, €10 note, bronze statue and Tottenham Hotspur FC.

Did they really have to pick on Tottenham?

Valio commissioned hasan & partners to demonstrate the power of Gefilus, which contains the friendly Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and vitamins. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is the world’s most researched lactic acid bacterium and its qualities have since been scrutinized in more than 800 scientific studies globally.

Umm – just because there are 800 papers does not mean it is necessarily good for you. I mean, published papers is a good thing. But there are also 1000s of papers on anthrax and smallpox …

Armed with bottles of good bacteria and a luminometer to count germs, the two-week tongue tour of Europe tests Wright’s taste buds and nerve to the limit. Viewers will find out if he survived the ordeal without contracting any stomach bugs and where in the world is the location with the worst bacterial score.

OK – well then. A luminometer will reveal everything you need to know about a sample of microbes. We should just use them for every microbial study everywhere (nothing against luminometers per se, but they really are not what is needed here).

Jussi Lindholm, COO of hasan & partners, comments: “Good bacteria in Gefilus products has been carefully studied and people believe in it. But seeing is believing, so the documentary is both educational and fun, designed to physically draw attention to the link between the gut, our inner strength, and our wellbeing. World traveller Ian Wright has experienced many challenges and Gefilus was probably the weirdest.”

OK. Doesn’t actually seem that weird. Just oversold …

Here is the full documentary

Microbiomania and Fecal Transplants

Had a bit of a Tweet scream about people promoting fecal transplants to cure all sorts of ailments. Yes fecal transplants are amazing, for C. diff infections.  And yes, they are worth testing for other ailments connected to microbes and inflammation.  But worth testing is very different than “they should be used for X”.  So I posted a bit about this.  Here is a Storify summary of some of the discussion

Also see this discussion on Facebook

CureZone pushing Fecal Transplants for Parkinson's, Schizophrenia ,MS, Lupus, Depression and more http://www.curezone.org/cleanse/enema/fecal_transplantation.asp #Microbiomania

Posted by Jonathan Eisen on Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some history of hype regarding the human genome project and genomics

Just taking some notes here – relates to a discussion going on online.  Would love pointers to other references relating to hype and the human genome project (including references that think it was not overhyped).  I note – see some of my previous posts about this issue including: Human genome project oversold? sure but lets not undersell basic science and various Overselling Genomics awards. 

Here are some things I have found:

White House press conference on announcing completetion of the human genome

Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives — and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases. In coming years, doctors increasingly will be able to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer by attacking their genetic roots. In fact, it is now conceivable that our children’s children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars.

Collins et al. New Goals for the U.S. Human Genome Project: 1998–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is fulfilling its promise as the single most important project in biology and the biomedical sciences— one that will permanently change biology and medicine.

Human Genome -The Biggest Sellout in Human History

The Human Genome Project: Hype meets reality

NOVA: Nature vs. Nurture Revisited

After a decade of hype surrounding the Human Genome Project, punctuated at regular intervals by gaudy headlines proclaiming the discovery of genes for killer diseases and complex traits, this unexpected result led some journalists to a stunning conclusion. The seesaw struggle between our genes (nature) and the environment (nurture) had swung sharply in favor of nurture.

The human genome project, 10 years in: Did they oversell the revolution? in the Globa and Mail by Paul Taylor referring to: “Deflating the Genomic Bubble

Also see Genomic Medicine: Too Great Expectations? by PP O Rourke

Also Has the Genomic Revolution Failed?

And Human genome 10th anniversary. Waiting for the revolution.

Science communication in transition: genomics hype, public engagement, education and commercialization pressures.

The Medical Revolution in Slate.

A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures in the New York Times.

In announcing on June 26, 2000, that the first draft of the human genome had been achieved, Mr. Clinton said it would “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.” 

At a news conference, Francis Collins, then the director of the genome agency at the National Institutes of Health, said that genetic diagnosis of diseases would be accomplished in 10 years and that treatments would start to roll out perhaps five years after that.

NNB report: Ten years later, Harvard assesses the genome map where regarding Eric Lander:

At the same time, , he said genomic research has “gone so much faster than I would have imagined.” He cited ” an explosion of work that will culminate, I think in the next five years, in a pretty comprehensive list of all the target that lead to different kinds of cancers and give us a kind of roadmap for finding the Achilles heel of cancers for therapeutics and diagnostics.”

while at the same time he blamed the press for the hype

From Great 15-Year Project To Decipher Genes Stirs Opposition in the Times June 1990

‘Our project is something that we can do now, and it’s something that we should do now,” said Dr. James D. Watson, a Nobel laureate who heads the National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institutes of Health. ”It’s essentially immoral not to get it done as fast as possible.”

  • Note the article has many complaining about the hype in the genome project even then ..

From SCIENTIST AT WORK: Francis S. Collins; Unlocking the Secrets of the Genome

And, Dr. Collins adds, there is nothing more important in science and medicine than the project he heads

Dr. Collins predicts that within 10 years everyone will have the opportunity to find out his or her own genetic risks, to know if cancer or heart attacks or diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, for example, lies in the future. 

From READING THE BOOK OF LIFE: THE DOCTOR’S WORLD; Genomic Chief Has High Hopes, and Great Fears, for Genetic Testing June 2000 in the NY Times

The story goes through some predictions Francis Collins made for the future in a talk.  These included:

  • BY 2010, the genome will help identify people at highest risk of particular diseases, so monitoring efforts can focus on them.
  • In cancer, genetic tests will identify those at highest risk for lung cancer from smoking. Genetic tests for colon cancer will narrow colonoscopy screening to people who need it most. A genetic test for prostate cancer could lead to more precise use of the prostate specific antigen, or P.S.A., test by identifying those men in whom the cancer is most likely to progress fastest. Additional genetic tests would guide treatment of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Three or four genetic tests will help predict an individual’s risk for developing coronary artery disease, thus helping to determine when to start drugs and other measures to reduce need for bypass operations.
  • Tests predicting a high risk for diabetes should help encourage susceptible individuals to exercise and control their weight. Those at higher risk might start taking drugs before they develop symptoms.
  • BY 2020, doctors will rely on individual genetic variations in prescribing new and old drugs and choosing the dose. Pharmaceutical companies will take a second look at some drugs that were never marketed, or were taken off the market, because some people who took them suffered adverse reactions. It will take many years to develop such drugs and tests.
  • Cancer doctors will use drugs that precisely target a tumor’s molecular fingerprint. One such gene-based designer drug, Herceptin, is already marketed for treating advanced breast cancer.
  • The genome project holds promise for the mental health field. ”One of the greatest benefits of genomic medicine will be to unravel some biological contributions to major mental illnesses like schizophrenia and manic depressive disease” and produce new therapies, Dr. Collins said.

Rediscovering some critical terms of use in microbial discussions: #microbiomania and #microbophobia

Earlier this week I was trying to come up with a short term to use when referring to the “Overselling of the Microbiome” and related hype. And I came up with one I really really like: microbiomania. The term just captures the essence of hype about microbiomes to me I guess.

So – of course – the first thing to do was to see if anyone else used this term.  And the number one thing I looked at was domain names.  Nope.  Microbiomania.Com and Microbiomania.Org are now mine.  And then I started to search the interwebs. And surprsingly there was not much (in English at least).  But some links showed up to books in Google Books with passages from > 100 years ago.  And this is when the digging got to be fun.  Here are some of the things I found.

1. A section from “The Medical Era

When copying this section of the search results I discovered Google Books has an embed tool for Google Books though not sure how well it works: here is a try

Anyway – the text of this section of the book reads:

The Paris correspondent of the Chicago Tribune in a recent letter says We hear very little now of microbist or anti microbist theories Dr Koch’s so called discovery is regarded with skepticism though not refuted The truth is his assertions are generally held to be not proven Dr Peters the favorite pupil of the great surgeon Dr Trousseau denounces what he calls microbiomania as a social danger and declares that the micro bians doctrine is vain sterile and objectionable in every way as both needlessly alarming and wrongly reassuring 

So I guess there were some folks who did not like the Koch and his silly theories about germs.

2. The Eclectic Medical Journal Volume 48

OCR text:

Microbiomania For five or six years past says Semolla you could not open a journal without encountierng an alleged discovery of one or more pathogenic bacilla and it is not necessary for me to tell you that the surest means of attaining celebrity is to discover in such and such a malady a new bacillus or a minute micrococcus I can not tell you what ridiculous puerilities have been brought forth by the imagination of physicians who are incapable of serious work and according to the rules of experimental medicine mount every new idea as though it were a triumphal car and think that in celebrating and exaggeraring its praises they manifest their love of progress 

Pretty awesome stuff I think.

3. The Louisville Medical Journal also comes up with a hit to microbiomania

Here is the attempt at an embed:

and the OCR interpreted text reads

and microbophobists The feeling against the theory of the microbial origin of cholera is very strong and was expressed by Prof Peter both at the Academy and the School of Medicine in these terms It is a pure satisfaction of natural history to say with the German School that there exists a microbe producer I say that there is a microbe product The parasitic doctrines have engendered a microbiomania which determined a terror which will be the opprobrium of the 19th century
Faris December 12 1884 

Now – nevermind that the OCR is not perfect (where is Faris?).  But not only is this fascinating.  But the beginning of the page has another word that seems worthy of resurrecting: microbophobists,  And this pulls up all sorts of fascinating discussions:


And the related search is perhaps more fascinating: microbophobia

So – in the end I did not come up with a totally new word.  But I do now have two words I really want to use more often and which I will use in the following ways:

  • Microbiomania which I define here as the overselling of the impact (beneficial or detrimental or otherwise) of microbiomes without the evidence to support such impact 
  • Microbophobia which I define here as the overwhelming and unreasonable fear of microbes (of any kinds).  This is similar in concept to “germophobia” but gets around the issue some people have with whether “germ” is a term that should be reserved for pathogens and thus that germophobia could be viewed as the fear of pathogens.  

Please make it stop – overselling the microbiome award for rugby, exercise, microbiome stories

Update added 11/2/14 – for all my posts on Overselling the Microbiome go here. 

Well, I think today’s lesson is, many people, including many scientists and science reporters, just do not get that there is a difference between correlation and causation.  I know – this is like beating a dead horse since many write about this issue.  But it just needs to be called out every time until it stops.  And today’s fun comes from stories and the original research articles about how exercise supposedly alters the gut microbiome.

I was pointed to this just a few minutes ago on Twitter:

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In this Tweet Bernat Olle points to a “news” story in Medpage Today: Exercise Boosts Gut Microbiome Diversity by Kristina Fiore.   Well, so of course I started digging around.  And, not surprisingly, the study that this is based on shows absolutely no causal connection between exercise and the gut microbiome.  The study is in the journal “Gut”: Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity.  And here is what they did:

  • They selected subjects – 40 “elite” rugby players.
  • They identified healthy male “controls” with similar age and size and from similar place. 
  • Then they collected faecal and blood samples from participants and did surveys about their nutrition and clinical data.
  • Among many measurements, they did 16S sequencing from the fecal samples
  • Then they did some bioinformatics and found differences between the rugby players and the controls in many features including microbiomes.
And amazingly, from this they report, in their abstract

The results provide evidence for a beneficial impact of exercise on gut microbiota diversity but also indicate that the relationship is complex and is related to accompanying dietary extremes.

The key part of this to me is 

The results provide evidence for a beneficial impact of exercise on gut microbiota diversity

For which they have no support.  They do not in any way show that exercise has ANY affect on the microbiota.  They show it is correlated to the microbiota.

And sadly there is a commentary on the article in the same issue of Gut that makes the same mistake.  Georgina Hold in The gut microbiota, dietary extremes and exercise writes:

The article is the first report that exercise increases gut microbiota richness/diversity and highlights that exercise is another important factor in the complex relationship among the host, host immunity and the microbiota.

No.  They did not show exercise increased gut microbiota diversity.  How can the difference between correlation and causation be missed in these articles?  Are these not even reviewed?  Sure – this is consistent with exercise affecting microbiomes but it is also consistent with rugby players having different diets and other behaviors.  There is a big difference between showing cause and effect and showing correlation.  For not distinguishing between correlation and causation regarding the rugby player microbiomes I am giving all involved here an “Overselling the Microbiome Award“.

Here is a microbiome theory I will leave you with.  I hypothesize that these papers, and all the other ones that oversell the microbiome, themselves cause major changes in the microbiome of many people.  Evidence for this?  Well, none yet.  But I have a correlation.  The correlation is, after reading these papers,  I feel sick to my stomach.  That must be proof right?


UPDATE 6/11/14

Author of the Medscape Medpage today article Kristina Fiore says she will update the article to more accurately reflect the science. See some of the thread below

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UPDATE 2: 6/11/14.

The press release from Gut associated with this paper contains many inaccurate statements.

Examples include:

  • Title: Exercise boosts diversity of gut bacteria
  • Text: Exercise boosts the diversity of the bacteria found in the gut, indicates the first study of its kind published online in the journal Gut.
Somewhat surprised that such mistakes would come from the journal itself.


UPDATE 3: 6/12/14.

Kritina Fiore has fixed the Medpage article.  Nice.


UPDATE 4: 6/12/14.

Science Magazine gets the causation vs. correlation issue wrong in their little news piece about this.  Yuck.

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UPDATE 5: 6/12.

Alexandra Sifferlin has a good article about this at Time

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UPDATE 6.

More accurate coverage by Claire O’Connell in the Irish Times Generally a good article here: Rugby players show good guts


UPDATE 7.

Popular Science messes it up too


UPDATE 8.

Keeping track of some of the Tweets about this on Storfy.


UPDATE 9 6/13/14.

NPR News Falls for the Hype

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UPDATE 10: 6/13/14.

Just found another inaccurate claim in the original paper


UPDATE 11: 6/13/14

Oh FFS. Now I have found some articles reporting not only that exercise affects gut microbial diversity but that this is why exercise reduces obesity. See Exercise lowers obesity risk by stimulating diverse gut bacteria in the NVO News, for example.

 

Quote from the story:

A latest research suggests that exercise actually lowers obesity risk by stimulating diverse gut bacteria


UPDATE 12: 6/13/14

Fox News did better with the science (at least in their headline) than many other News Agencies (and much better than NPR).  They report “Exercise may lead to healthier gut bacteria“.

Just that word “May” makes me happy.  I know.  Low bar.  But I will take what I can get.

UPDATE 13: 6/13/14

Genome Web also is reporting on the story and on the “overselling” that was done.

UPDATE 13: 6/18/14

And now the New York Times joins the fray: Exercise and the ‘Good’ Bugs in Our Gut where Gretchen Reynolds writes:

The findings suggest that, in addition to its other health benefits, frequent exercise may influence our weight and overall health by altering the kinds of organisms that live inside of us.

No – the findings do not suggest that.  The findings are consistent with that theory but they are consistent with many many many other theories.  FFS this is maddening.  And the article ends with a quote from one of the authors:

But even in advance of those findings, he said, it seems likely that any amount of exercise should make your gut more welcoming to the bacteria that you want residing there.

I note – I found out about this article via Twitter

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