Finding out about your own gut microbes

December 9, 2013

Want to know which microbes live inside your gut?

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in collaboration with the Human Food Project, have created an open-access, crowd-funded project, “American Gut,” where you can find out. They will tell you not only which microbes are in there but also what they are doing.

It’s all part of a larger backdrop that includes the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, an ambitious $195 million undertaking that aims to characterize the microbial communities found at several sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health.

But unlike typical clinical studies, which draw carefully screened participants, anyone who wants to participate in “American Gut’’ can, although each person must donate $99 to do so. The organizers hope tens of thousands of people will sign up.

The scientists hope to use the information to understand how diet and lifestyle, whether by choice — like athletes or vegetarians — or by necessity, including those suffering from particular autoimmune diseases or who have food allergies, affect people’s microbial makeup, said Rob Knight, a member of the research team who is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university.

Participants will receive a list of the dominant microbes in their gut, and several visualizations showing how they compare with the population at large. Ultimately, as the research advances, participants can learn if their own microbes are “good” or “bad” — that is, protective or risky — and what, if anything, they can do about it.

People who may want to participate can find more information at www.humanfoodproject.
com/americangu
. Those who sign up will receive a swab kit in the mail — for taking a fecal sample — and will be asked to fill out an online questionnaire that asks for detailed information about what they’ve been eating. This will allow the researchers to compare vegetarians, omnivores, junk-fund consumers, gluten-free eaters, etc.

Marlene Cimons

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