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Finding Genius Podcast

Jun 26, 2019

Meagan Rubel, Graduate Student, Department of Genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, provides a thorough overview of her work studying anthropology and the microbiome.


Rubel is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in molecular anthropology, studying biological anthropology in detail, and specifically focusing on evolution and adaptation in human beings. She holds a Masters in Public Health from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A/B.I.S., Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies Foci in Biology and Geography, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.


Rubel is particularly focused on how diet, survival/subsistence practice, as well as environments are unified with genetic variation, phenotypic adaptation, and overall health. And her specific area of research pertains to the gut microbiome and helminth (parasitic worms) analysis and study within select African groups utilizing human genetics and various statistical methods.


Rubel talks in detail about health biomarkers of some of her study groups, specifically talking about her work in Botswana. She discusses how we define a normal healthy microbiome because it is very context-dependent. She gives examples of how different types of people have varied microbiomes, and she states that there is a lot of research taking place currently that seeks to answer the question of what certain missing bacterial diversity could be doing to our health in the long run. She talks about microbial diversity that could be lost due to changing diets and changing activities. Diet changes could change bacteria composition. What kind of diversity is good diversity she asks, but she states that you don’t necessarily need to be a hunter/gatherer to have a healthy microbiome and healthy bacteria.  


And Rubel discusses how modern society has impacted bacteria and health, from air pollution to reduction in pathogens, and improvement of living standards overall. She discusses how parasites can actually reduce allergen-induced inflammation. Further, Rubel talks about some of her current work that she has not yet published, that studies blood parasites and fecal parasites, etc., and she mentions some of the predictive modelings they use to make associations between parasites and the microbiome.