U of G Prof Featured in Autism Documentary

December 06, 2011 - In the News

A University of Guelph microbiologist is featured in a new documentary on autism airing this week on the CBC-TV program The Nature of Things.

The Autism Enigma includes interviews with Prof. Emma Allen-Vercoe, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and footage filmed in her research laboratory. She also appears in several online interviews promoting the film.

The Nature of Things, hosted by David Suzuki, airs Thursday at 8 p.m.

The documentary looks at various and often conflicting hypotheses about autism, focusing on a new “microbial theory.” Scientists have found that gut bacteria in children with regressive autism differ from those in healthy kids. About 70 per cent of children with this type of autism exhibit severe gastrointestinal symptoms, prompting researchers to ask whether this disease begins in the gut.

Allen-Vercoe is among several international scientists featured in the documentary. She studies normal gut microflora in healthy and ill people, including people with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), disease associated with Clostridium difficile and regressive autism.

Her science complex laboratory is one of the few places in Canada where this research can be done. Using a computer-controlled “robo-gut” that mimics the environment of the large intestine, Allen-Vercoe has been able to culture certain microbes for the first time. She can study potential links between specific bacteria and regressive autism, and how those bacteria behave among other microbes.

She hopes to learn more about microflora in autistic patients and whether bacterial products may help cause autism.

Allen-Vercoe works with researchers at the University of Western Ontario and the University of California, Los Angeles.

She provides novel gut bacteria to the Human Microbiome Project, whose researchers are cataloguing the genomes of all microbes found in or on the human body.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1