Long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte and the crew of Seeker are on a mission to bring attention to changing ocean ecosystems. But along the way, Ben’s internal ecosystem
will change too, presenting scientists with a unique opportunity to show just how much our environment affects the millions of microbes swimming within us. JARRAD: The human microbiome is basically all of the bacteria that encompass who you are. You have pretty much a ten to one ratio of bacterial cells that live on you and in you at any point in time, of cells that actually make up who you are. The microbiome Influences pretty much everything, from endocrinology – your hormones – to inflammatory responses, and even changing some of the connections in the brain. But yet, we still don’t know how exercise is actually shaping our microbial environments. This will be the first longitudinal study to ever look at human gut health, and how exercise can modulate and influence human health as a whole. Jarrad and his team at the Argonne National Laboratory are working with Ben’s doctors to monitor how completing the extreme athletic feat of swimming across the Pacific will impact Ben’s health. JARRAD: How much of the water microbiome or the ocean microbiome is actually influencing his gut? Is there kind of a cap to the effect that you can get from exercise itself, and its ability to modulate the microbiome? So, when we say microbiome, what we really mean is our interaction with the environment and how not only we shape our environment, but the bacteria that live on us and in us at any point in time shape it with us. We’re taking every metric we can get, not only about him, but every environment that he’s in and how long he’s there. He’s basically doing an ultra-marathon each day. The main hypothesis is that we know his body is going to adapt; we just don’t know how… yet. Researchers are also logging the macro-and micro-nutrient profiles of Ben’s daily diet, a combination of liquids and solid meals of grain, canned vegetables, and protein supplements. This high-fat meal plan clocks in at over 8,000 calories per day, which seems like a lot but Ben will need every calorie to keep his stamina up. MAKS: During the Swim we make him a soup.
We start with a freeze-dried meal We grinded it and I put some extra secret ingredients in it – CalorieMates – to make it like, more heavy for him so he has more fuel to burn. Also, I put carbohydrate powder in it, and every hour when he stops his swim he can have a little bit of that, together with the bread Yoav is making. Preliminary research has shown that extreme athletes who train rigorously and follow a high-calorie diet actually have a distinctly different microbiome
from the average person, which is the reason scientists like Jarrad are interested in studying people like Ben. What makes an athlete’s microbiome so unique may come down to how their gut flora enable them to maximize their metabolism, and ultimately build the amino acids which help to create and repair tissue. JARRAD: Athletes are considered, like, an elevated model of the human, right? So exercise in itself increases diversity,
first and foremost. Increases in diversity generally means
increases in human health, or promotes normal function or normal homeostasis. Jarrad’s team thinks that if we can identify the beneficial super-organisms or mechanisms that come into play during extreme exertion,
we may be able to develop targeted probiotics that could potentially allow
anyone to replicate a pro-athlete’s microbiome, without having to consume 8,000 calories or swim eight hours a day. JARRAD: There are a lot of connections between the microbiota and preventive medicine, so if we can understand various aspects of our lifestyle and how they influence not only our genomic content, our gene activations, our functional potentials…
we then can start to get at prescribing individualized preventative therapeutics,
or medical applications to look at not only promoting human health,
but maintaining it as well. This would have immense implications for everything from controlling weight, to improving disease immunity to enhancing psychological function. It’s only the beginning of a new approach to monitoring and caring for our bodies, but Ben’s diving in, so we can scratch the surface. JARRAD: This is kind of like a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not only from his standpoint, to raise awareness about conservation, environmental health, as well as environmental exposure and what we’re doing to our environment… but it also raises questions about understanding human health, the value of exercise and actually testing the human limits
and what we can get from that. He’s really driving a lot of science, and I’m really just happy to be a part of it. Be sure to visit seeker.com/theswim to read daily updates from Ben Lecomte, track his progress in real-time, and watch more videos about the science happening on board Seeker. Click here for this next episode, and don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks for watching!