Fecal transplants are increasingly utilized for treatment of recurrent infections (i.e., Clostridium difficile) in the human gut and as a general research tool for gain-of-function experiments (i.e., gavage of fecal pellets) in animal models. Changes observed in the recipient’s biology are routinely attributed to bacterial cells in the donor feces (~10^11 per gram of human wet stool). Here, we examine the literature and summarize findings on the composition of fecal matter in order to raise cautiously the profile of its multipart nature. In addition to viable bacteria, which may make up a small fraction of total fecal matter, other components in unprocessed human feces include colonocytes (~10^7 per gram of wet stool), archaea (~10^8 per gram of wet stool), viruses (~10^8 per gram of wet stool), fungi (~10^6 per gram of wet stool), protists, and metabolites. Thus, while speculative at this point and contingent on the transplant procedure and study system, nonbacterial matter could contribute to changes in the recipient’s biology. There is a cautious need for continued reductionism to separate out the effects and interactions of each component.
Bojanova DP, Bordenstein SR (2016) Fecal Transplants: What Is Being Transferred? PLoS Biol 14(7): e1002503. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002503