See if you can read this recent highlight from Nature Science Update — it’s a surefire icebreaker for your next awkward social interaction. It details the efforts of microbiologists at San Diego State University to gather genetic information about microbes which live in our guts by sorting through the DNA in our poop.

As disgusting a job as this may be, it’s pretty interesting for a number of reasons. Who hasn’t wondered about the vast, steamy ecosystem we all carry around inside us? And in the highlighted article, it turns out that our guts harbor a previously unappreciated vast diversity of viruses (called bacteriophages or phages) which prey on the vast diversity of bacteria living there. Many such microbes are hard to grow outside their natural habitat, so genetic analysis is a convenient way to catalog the suckers without having to grow them. Finally, as a Ukrainian colleague of mine informed me, bacteriophages were long used by the Soviets to treat bacterial infection, and as antibiotic resistance grows around the world, Western medicine is very interested in them.