Federico Rey to analyze microbiome of “Happy Days Study” participants

Eugenio Vivas, a lab manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows a freezer containing stool samples from participants in a UW study. Photo by UW-Madison.
Eugenio Vivas, lab manager in Federico Rey’s bacteriology lab, shows a freezer containing stool samples from participants in the WLS study. Photo by UW-Madison.

Federico Rey has a freezer full of stool samples in his lab, a treasure trove of valuable scientific and medical information just waiting to be processed.

As described in a recent UW news release, the samples are from participants in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), one of the most comprehensive studies of aging and health in America. Participants in the study, Wisconsinites who graduated high school in 1957, have been sharing information about their health—and various biological samples—since the start. But stool was a new one.

Many said yes, however, and Rey has 430 samples in the freezer so far.

From these samples, Rey’s team will be able to analyze the gut microbiome of members of this group. The term “gut microbiome” refers to the full suite of microbes found in the gut.

Why is this information so valuable? It’s all about understanding human health and disease, and unlocking the potential of individualized medicine, as explained in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the project:

The unique mix of microbes in our gut may have much to do with why some diets work for some people but not for others. For example, the microbes in one person’s gut may derive health benefits from flavonoids, nutrients found in blackberries and other fruits and vegetables. But having a different set of microbes in another person’s gut may mean that flavonoids offer little or no benefit to that individual.

 “The million dollar question is: What is a healthy microbiome?” Rey said, explaining that he suspects there won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer. Rey’s hunch is that what constitutes a healthy microbiome will depend on our genes, diet and the environment we’re exposed to.