The human body is 90% bacterial cells, a microbiome as unique as a fingerprint. Studying Ben’s could reveal secrets about the constant interplay between our environment and our health — and maybe even help us harness a pro athlete’s metabolism.
“The human microbiome is basically all of the bacteria that encompass who you are, “ explains Jarrad Marcell, a microbial ecologist at the Argonne National Laboratory. “You have pretty much a ten to one ratio of bacterial cells that live on you. The microbiome influences pretty much everything. From endocrinology, your hormones, to inflammatory responses, and even changing some of the connections in the brain.”
That’s why Jarrad and his team are working with Ben’s doctors to monitor how completing the extreme athletic feat of swimming across the Pacific will impact Ben’s microbial diversity, and what that can tell us about his overall health.
“We still don't know how exercise is actually shaping our microbial environments,” Jarrad explains. “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.”
To see how his interior is adapting to the ocean, Ben's onboard medic, Maks, is obtaining samples of his skin, his feces, and his mouth every day. This data will be combined with water sample data from each environment Ben passes through to see whether the ocean microbiome is affecting Ben's.
“We're taking every metric we can get, not only about [Ben], but every environment that he's in and how long he's there,” Jarrad notes. “He's basically doing a ultra marathon each day. The main hypothesis is that, we know his body is going to adapt. We just don't know how… yet.”