DEC 01, 2015 7:29 PM PST

Microbiome Sequencing - From the Comfort of Home

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
A San Francisco based startup called μBiome is partnering with the CDC to sequence your microbiome.

According to their website, “μBiome is the world’s first effort to map the human microbiome with citizen science.  Our sequencing provides information and tools for you to explore the populations of bacteria that live on and inside your body.  Based on research from the NIH Human Microbiome Project, we’ve perfected the technology to perform large-scale microbiome studies.  The knowledge we’ll gain may (one day) empower people to live healthier and accelerate our understanding of the world around us”.
 
?Biome will partner with the CDC to study the microbiome.

μBiome will collaborate with the CDC to develop a “microbiome disruption index” that could be used to track the effects of antibiotics and disease on gut microbes.  To do this, μBiome will sequence 10,000 stool samples that were obtained from hospital patients.  According to CDC epidemiologist Alison Halpin, “it’s possible for (microbiome sequencing) to become a standard tool.  We’re trying to anticipate that by understanding how you interpret that information”.  In the future, microbiome data could help physicians treat infections or predict disease outcomes - but that’s still a long way off.

μBiome also offers direct-to-consumer microbiome sequencing kits - think of it as 23andMe for bacteria.  There are currently three at-home kits to choose from:
  1. Gut Kit - this kit costs $89 and, according to their website, it’s “the best starter kit for curious beginners”.
  2. Gut Time Lapse Kit - this one costs $199.  It samples three time points - before, during, and after a lifestyle change.
  3. Five Site Kit - this one retails for $399 (ideal for the high-rolling citizen scientist).  It samples the gut, mouth, nose, genitals, and skin.
Once your samples are sequenced, you can access a report on the company’s website.  It contains information about each bacterial species and lets you compare results with other customers.  

One thing you won’t get is counseling or advice based on your results - the FAQ page is careful to note this.  It is for “personal research” and is not meant to be a diagnostic tool.  At this point, μBiome might just be a novelty for science-savvy consumers, but could certainly generate useful data for the future.  
 

Sources: μBiome, Wired
 
About the Author
Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
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