Shareable Biome — Exploring the ecological and cultural needs for a diverse microbiome

The need for a diverse microbiome is for us a potent analogy for the need for cultural diversity among people.

This series of drawings, interactive data visualization, video, and lecture performances explore the geographic and cultural diffusion of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) — a radical life-saving probiotic procedure. The recontextualization of fecal matter (a waste people have always left behind) as a life giving medicine is a beautiful example of the transmutation of waste into value through alchemy, a practice which we hope will eventually help us disappear all types of waste.

Science Gallery London. Friday Late:Unbreakable ©Richard Eaton

People have developed a tendency to view poop as gross and all bacteria as harmful. Microbial diversity has been dangerously declining both in humans and the environment at large. A healthy gut is one that features diverse bacteria, and a gut lacking in a diverse microbiome is at risk for a monoculture infection. Culture refers both to bacteria and human collective truth. The need for a diverse microbiome is for us a potent analogy for the need for cultural diversity among people. We embrace the recent advances in Microbiome Theory and extrapolate emerging ideas way out into the future using design fictions.

This video above is of our interactive maps showing Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) Shipments in the US correlated with a selection of data from OpenBiome, Google Trends, and the Census which could be affecting the acceptance or rejection of FMT in certain locations. The interactive map is available here.

SuperTurd is a card game featuring characters based on dietary/lifestyle recommendations for maintaining a healthy microbiome. Players can compete to avoid getting cards that reduce diversity and strive to receive a SuperTurd which replenishes points if their microbiome becomes dangerously depleted. It is meant to seduce people into exchanging bacteria (as they pass cards among each other) while talking about ecology.


These Sphinctegraphs are visualizations of gut bacterial ecologies of OpenBiome’s FMT donors. OpenBiome shared the counts of each bacteria species in each of the donors’ guts. The data was run through machine learning algorithms to find 10 patterns in the relationships of bacteria to each other across the donor collective. Each color represents one of the 10 identified patterns.

These whimsical pictures imagine microbes in our environments and speculate on future applications of Microbiome Theory.

Our Shareable Biome lecture performance weaves together information about FMT’s and microbiome culture with stories about the dangers of societal monocultures and concludes with a group meditation on maintaining a healthy microbiome.