After European researchers reported in April that they had identified three basic combinations of microbiota, known as “enterotypes,” they began receiving e-mails from people hoping to find out which one they had and how that might be affecting their health.

Over the summer, the group launched my.microbes — a social network organized around the microbiome. Volunteers mail in samples for analysis at a subsidized price of about $2,000. The non-profit project is aimed at quickly assembling a large database for scientists to study while offering easy access to cutting-edge research.

“We thought it would be a nice way to bring a social network aspect to it,” said Mani Arumugam of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. “One person may see, ‘Someone else looks like me,’ in terms of their microbiome. The other might say, ‘What do they do? Or, ‘I have this condition. I ate this fruit and it helped me.’ It’s totally up to them.”

Rob Stein