If you are like me, the feast of Thanksgiving naturally calls to mind the importance of gut flora. As I mentioned before, gut flora has received a lot of attention lately and has been implicated in many health conditions from diabetes to autism. I myself have signed up for Melanie Swan’s gut flora study on Genomera. This is a fairly in-depth study to track gut flora population response to probiotic intervention. However, we are still waiting for it to attract enough participants to go forward.
If you are interested in a quick and, err, dirty way to get some basic info on your microbiome, check out this American Gut study on Indiegogo. For as little as $99 you can have a single specimen sample analyzed and receive a report:
This PERK includes DNA extraction and 16S rRNA sequencing of one stool sample (or an oral or skin sample – the same kit works for any of these), and shows which bacteria and archaea were present in that sample along with how much of each kind. You will get a certificate suitable for framing with a readout of your microbes and a view of your microbes in the context of other people’s.
Suitable for framing? Really? Not even I am that out of it.
If you want to really go nuts, why not splurge and plop down $25k:
“Hundreds of genomes from your gut.” Be among the first in the world to get the most detailed map of your gut microbiome and help us push the state-of-the-art in high-throughput sequence technology of microbial communities. We will perform ultra-deep sequencing of your microbiome sample aimed at generating as many individual bacterial genomes as possible (We can’t tell you how because the details of the technique are still under wraps prior to publication.). Includes a private consultation with project scientists to discuss the genomes with you. Only serious need inquire, please email:firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest before signing up for this one.
I am not sure what you can do with this information immediately. It’s unlikely that your physician will be of much help unless you have some serious resources at your disposal and can afford a “concierge” doctor. I am assuming that you will at least be able to determine which of the two primary “enterotypes” your gut flora population falls into. From there, I imagine that you could try some interventions to improve your health. As I mentioned in my previous article on gut flora, this article makes me skeptical that probiotic supplements will have much affect. However, if you have been forced to take antibiotics recently, this study suggests that probiotics might reduce your risk of certain problems. Going forward, the decreasing cost of gut flora analysis will make it easier to contrast the effects of say, sauerkraut and Jarro-Dophilus.
I was notified that there is yet another microbiome study on indiegogo called uBiome. This project is similar to the American Gut study, but there are a couple of key differences. uBiome is open to international participants, so if you aren’t a Yankee, you are still welcome. Also, it seems to be more more longitudinally oriented (for samples taken over time.) I for one am interested in the “Quantified uBiome” package which provides three time points and a web app to assist with experimentation. The uBiome site seems to suggest that the microbiome can be “easily changed.” I was initially skeptical about this, but compared to the human genome, that is probably true. These projects will certainly help us to gain more insight into how easy it really is to domesticate your microbiota.