It is my understanding that Hitler's physician, T. Morell, who was essentially a "feel good" like Max Jacobson (although maybe still acting within accepted practice in the days when powerful drugs were very liberally prescribed or even available otc) was giving Hitler a "drug" call Mutaflor that was essentially e. coli extracted from human feces.

Today I think good results are sometimes achieved with fecal transplants and what I am wondering is if there is a relationship between the ideas of the 1930s and today? Was the drug known to modern researchers and maybe even is the reason fecal transplants were eventually undertaken? Or was the drug of the 1930s a misguided therapy, prescribed for invalid reasons and fecal transplants are really quite different?

EDIT: Link to Wikipedia article although even without Hitler and Morell, the drug itself existing is enough to justify the question I think: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Morell

  • Could you please edit your question and add a link to the claim about Hitler and Mutaflor?
    – Carey Gregory
    Feb 22, 2019 at 5:23
  • @CareyGregory: done but morell/hitler although interesting are not that important to the question actually.
    – releseabe
    Feb 22, 2019 at 5:39
  • Understood, but showing some degree of prior research is a requirement here and it's an obvious background item most people won't be familiar with.
    – Carey Gregory
    Feb 22, 2019 at 6:09
  • okay. anyway, a drug which used e. coli existed almost 90 years ago and i am just interested in knowing whether the reasoning for its use is related to modern therapies concerned with gut flora, etc. or it was just some random idea that is only superficially related.
    – releseabe
    Feb 22, 2019 at 7:04

1 Answer 1


During the First World War many German soldiers on the Western Front suffered from dysentry. The physician Alfred Nissle compared sick and healthy soldiers and figured that the intestinal bacteria were significantly different. Reasoning that perhaps the bacteria from the healthy soldiers might contribute to healing the sick, he isolated a strain called Escherichia coli Nissle 1917.

U Sonnenborn: "Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917-from bench to bedside and back: history of a special Escherichia coli strain with probiotic properties.", FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2016 Oct;363(19). pii: fnw212. Epub 2016 Sep 11.

The idea is exactly the same as with modern probiotics, like yoghurt drinks etc, and in fact the original strain is still on the market with its original marketing name: Mutaflor (historical summary (PDF) from the company website). I don't know whether this long history of cultivation might be responsible for its relative weakness now for that purpose (Eg "Thus, E. coli Nissle 1917 does not have the capacity to compete effectively with MDREC in the bowel of elderly patients.")

During the war it proved effective and in case of this special treatment of a certain guy, it seems that "the patient" was satisfied and convinced enough to let Morrell go on to prescribe or just administer him the known full arsenal of polytoxicomania.

Since the beginning of the century quite a few researchers played with the idea of using bacteria for therapeutic effects, not in the least because Metchnikoff published a book bout The prolongation of life; optimistic studies in 1908. But I'd say that the doctors at the time were mostly entrenched in a line of thought from Semmelweis to Koch and Pasteur, namely that bacteria "are evil", and therefore the very idea of using them as therapy as a form of heresy. The exact effects, and whether they are beneficial or what, are still under debate today. (Example from 1992). So, while the product was on the market with good track record, its use wasn't as widespread as modern formulations are now.

It is quite difficult to judge the reasoning and motivation Morrell had at the time. The 'medication' was not entirely unusual, being produced not in a private backyard lab but a proper facility, but even most of his contemporaries considered him a quack. So it is entirely within probable possibilities that 'his reasons' were invalid ("A new miracle cure, I swear!")

  • would you not agree that the idea that bacteria can be good is a fairly new idea or at least the popular sense of bacteria is that they are "bad?" i know personally the word has very negative connotations and the idea of being treated with bacteria is repulsive somewhat.
    – releseabe
    Jan 17, 2021 at 11:36
  • @releseabe Bacteria are 'new' to us (discovery), the resulting germophobia which was amped up recently with coronoia to hitherto unseen levels was not. Sterility has its places of applications, but in everyday life it's just catastrophic. Thus, no, the idea that we need bacteria is over 100yrs old, our application of them (any fermentation) much older. It is a distorted view of the world & constant propaganda that an average person always fears them, most often needlessly. What's relatively new is the understanding for a diverse microbiome's benefits, its very necessity for healthy life. Jan 17, 2021 at 14:55
  • The very source for all the worlds wines, beers, cheeses & yoghurts surely is repulsive for many brought up in the 'usual way'. Yeasts from women's feet, bacteria found in 'unholy' body parts… But we like bee's vomit or beetle juice when it is sold as honey, mix stuff like scatol or castoreum into perfume (the right amount works wonders). Icky is for a small part an instinct, but biology is here trumped by culture any time, even for such 'obvious' things like 'taste' or 'danger'. Thus: only the general lay public is slow to warm up to balanced: Bacteria are mostly harmless or even good. Jan 17, 2021 at 15:03
  • yes. but i am sure i am not alone in connotations i find in the word. bees are tiny sentient machines that work for us and honey is not their vomit.
    – releseabe
    Jan 17, 2021 at 15:10

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