MIT Researcher Works with Sewage to Study Inflammatory Bowel Disease

MIT Researcher Works with Sewage to Study Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A fourth-year PhD research student in computational and systems biology at MIT, Mariana G. Matus, is collecting sewage samples with the goal of understanding community behavior and health. "It's not something that people really like to talk about," Matus said in a news release. "But human waste can actually tell us a lot about health." According to Matus, sewage can be a gold mine of data, as a small sewage sample most likely comprises several biomarkers with information on chronic and infectious medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and influenza. The topic was the result of her research interests in water treatment and scarcity. Matus grew up in San Luis Potosí in Mexico, a city affected by water scarcities where residents only have access to water two or three days per week. After college, Matus went to the Netherlands to study water treatment at Wageningen University, and then joined the MIT lab of Eric Alm. Matus' research project at MIT has two different aims: to collect samples of sewage from manholes in Boston and Cambridge, and collect samples of stool from individuals. The first aim concerns community health, whereas the second is focused on individuals' health. All of the sewage samples collected refer to systems that serve at least 4,000 people, allowing Matus to have a picture of where and when infectious conditions develop and how they spread. The research project, named "Underworlds," has been piloted in Cambridge and will now be expanded across 10 locations in Boston. Currently, engineers collaborating with Matus are developing automated collectors to be placed at each of the 10 manholes. The system will eliminate the need for a person to sam
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