More microbe than mammal

I know I’m supposed to be in hibernation, but something came up that was so good I just had to share it with you.

You know by now that I am totally fascinated by the human microbiome, those trillions of microbes that make up most of the human organism. I’ve written here on Gydle about how microbes in our guts may implicated in a variety of ailments, from diabetes to Parkinson’s to obesity and irritable bowel disease.

I also wrote recently that the massive NIH-finded Human Microbiome Project has had a number of publications like this one in Nature Magazine that outline thier discoveries about the makeup and function of a “healthy” human microbiome.  I have a feeling that what we find out about the microbiome may well revolutionize our approach to health and medicine.

You might also remember from last year that I’m also fascinated by the concept of crowdsourcing, a kind of data gathering approach that takes information freely and painlessly from tons of people who are just going about their ordinary lives. They’re mined for data while driving, surfing the internet, ordering things online, logging into websites, reading wikipedia pages, looking at the stars, pooping…

Yes, pooping.

Yesterday when trolling one of my favorite nutrition blogs I came across the news that the human microbiome is going to be crowdsourced! Seriously! It doesn’t get much better than this, folks. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect. Why not crowdsource the microbiome? After all, as the title of one of our more cherished children’s books says, “Everybody poops.” It’s data ripe for the plucking. YOU, yes YOU may be one of the lucky ones who can donate your poop sample to the most important crowdsourcing project in history.

Here’s what to do: go visit the Human Food Project/American Gut site, read the article (it’s really interesting) and then sign up to be notified when they start accepting volunteers. I signed up for their newsletter, too. Be sure to read about the Human Food Project, a study that is examining the microbiomes of a tribe of Bushmen in Africa that, “in the blink of an eye, went from pure hunter-gatherers to a majority of them now being dependent on government subsidies dominated by highly-processed westernized foods.” It will be revealing to see just what that dietary change does to their microbiome and their health. What the crap does to their crap. Pardon me.

I’m so impressed by this evidence of American cleverness. I might have mentioned a while back an EU-funded project that is also analyzing the human microbiome from ordinary people. But the pleasure of participating in that study will cost you almost 1,000 euros!  And that’s after they “lowered the partiipation costs by 30%”! Who do they think they’re kidding?

In contrast, it appears that the American Gut project is planning to use a kickstarter-like approach, where you give a donation of a certain amount to receive a sample kit and, I imagine, a range of subsequent information and services that corresponds to the level of your contribution. It should all go live at the beginning of September.

Go USA!! If I lived in the US, I’d be all over this. I ordered my CTO to sign up. I’m sure other family members will follow suit. If you sign up and get chosen, could you please let me know what you learn? I’m dying of curiosity. It might be worth moving back to the US to take part in this… Wait, no, it’s an election year. Maybe in 2013.

Image: gut bacteria from Giant Microbes.com

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