A researcher famed for his work on the microbiomes of hunter-gatherers has been accused by several women of sexual assault, according to U.S. court documents. Jeff Leach, a resident of Terlingua, Texas, co-founded a major open-source, crowdfunded project on the microbiome and is the co-author of multiple papers on gut microbes, including one in Science. In the publicity resulting from the allegations, other questions have emerged about Leach’s academic qualifications and his behavior in the field.
The sexual assault accusations came to light as a result of a defamation suit Leach filed in September 2019. In July 2019, Katy Schwartz, who worked at the Terlingua tourist lodge that Leach runs, filed a police report alleging that he had sexually assaulted her. Schwartz did not press charges, but asserts in court documents that she wanted her experience documented because she feared Leach could be a danger to others.
In the wake of the lawsuit against Schwartz, three other local women filed affidavits. One alleged that Leach had assaulted her, putting his hand up her shorts “without any warning.” A second alleged that he raped her in a “violent assault” for which “there was no consent.” A third affidavit alleged that Leach sexually assaulted a woman, became violent during an argument, and threatened her with litigation.