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Crowdsourcing human microbiome research

Hello Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable! I’m a PhD student at Oxford, and together with my co-founders from the University of California, San Francisco, I am honoured to help with uBiome, the world’s first citizen science effort to map the human microbiome.

The project is funded through crowdfunding at www.indiegogo.com/ubiome. Each a gut kit is $69; gut and mouth kits are $139 for both (+$12 shipping outside the United States for each). We plan to send out the kits in May 2012 and return the results on a website once we get the kits back from everyone.

So far, our project has garnered almost $55,000 in crowdfunding from over 475 participants in less than a month.  Participants from twenty different countries spanning four continents have pledged their support, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, as well as India, Singapore, and Uruguay. We’ve been featured so far in Wired, Venture Beat, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, BoingBoing, and syndicated in 160 newspapers around the world through the Associate Press.

What is the microbiome, you ask?

The microbiome are the bacteria that live on and within us. It sounds kind of funny, but all of us are actually covered in helpful germs (or co-evolved symbionts if you prefer).

Like the rainforest, the healthy human microbiome is a balanced ecosystem. The correct balance of microbes serves to keep potential pathogens in check and regulate the immune system. Microbes also perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesising vitamins. Some research also suggests that microbial activity influences mammalian mood and behaviour. Studies have linked microbiome imbalance to autism, depression, and anxiety, as well as many gut disorders, eczema, and chronic sinusitis. Infant health even appears to benefit from a proper seeding of microbes at birth, with health consequences ranging into adolescence. For some future-thinking commentary on the microbiome, check out this interesting editorial in Science by Leroy Hood.

uBiome brings this cutting edge technology directly to consumers for the first time through citizen science.

We provide participants with a catalogue of their own microbes, detailing the microbial composition of the body and explaining what is known about each genera of microbe.  In addition, uBiome compares participants’ microbiomes with scientific studies on the role of the microbiome in health, diet and lifestyle.  uBiome also provides personal analysis tools and data viewers so that users can anonymously compare their own data with crowd data as well as with the latest scientific research.

From a small sample on a cotton swab, your uBiome test helps you to learn more about your body, including:

  • Diet: Certain gut enterotypes are strongly associated with long-term diets, particularly protein and animal fat (Bacteroides) versus carbohydrates (Prevotella). Maybe you are not sticking to your diet as much as you think.
  • Diabetes: Does your gut microflora correlate with people who have diabetes?  If you have other symptoms as well, you might want to talk with your doctor.
  • Sinusitis: Is your nasal microbiome associated with the profile of chronic sinusitis? Some studies have found that multiple, phylogenetically distinct lactic acid bacteria were depleted concomitant with an increase in the relative abundance of a single species, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum.
  • Alcohol consumption: Do you drink a lot of alcohol? If your gut profile clusters with heavy drinkers, you might want to consider cutting back on the booze.
  • Bowel conditions: Do you have Irritable Bowel Disorder (or any other bowel condition)? You may want to purchase our specially designed kit and survey for bowel disorders.

Please join us and help us spread the word about this project. The more people that contribute, the more we can all learn about our health, and contribute to the advance of SCIENCE!

Find out more info here: www.indiegogo.com/ubiome

Read our press here: Wired, Venture Beat, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, BoingBoing

 

This post was written by:

Jessica Richman View author bio

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