American Gut News & Updates: Building Macro Data from Microbiomes

Some people never struggle with their weight. Other people seem to gain a pound just by thinking of cheesecake, but they never get a mosquito bite. Or they can’t metabolize certain antibiotics – or over-the-counter painkillers. While it’s tempting to blame our genes for everything, we shouldn’t.

According to Rob Knight, co-founder and lead investigator of Open Humans Research Partner American Gut, maybe we should blame – or thank – our microbiome!

American Gut is the world’s largest open-source, crowdfunded science project. Its objective is to study certain microbes and learn how they impact disease, wellness, and even human behavior. Microbes are the tiny organisms that live in and on our bodies (plus everywhere else). They’re much more plentiful and variable than our DNA, and researchers are discovering that they play a huge part in our resistance to — and our resilience from — numerous health issues, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. It’s the cutting edge of research, and could be a strange-but-cool gift if you’re still looking for something special.

American Gut participants have the opportunity to find out what’s lurking in your gut, mouth, and on your skin by using a sample kit that you purchase for $99. These contributions allow Rob Knight and his team to study the relationship between people’s health, habits and their microbial diversity. There’s tremendous statistical power in a study with a population sample in the thousands, and, in just 3 years, American Gut has amassed a participant base of over 10,000 people!

One big change for American Gut this year is that it moved from the University of Colorado at Boulder to the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Knight wanted to bring his lab closer to the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Scripps Research Institute since analyzing microbiomes requires state of the art computation and bioinformatics. Being in California also provides the opportunity to collaborate with different investigators.

In October, Dr. Knight and his researchers celebrated the fact that American Gut has now received over $1 million in donations. This is a huge accomplishment for any research study, and especially one that asks participants to collect their own samples!

Additionally, the American Gut team has been making plans to expand internationally.Since they already have sister projects in Australia and Britain, we’re excited to find out where they head to next. But don’t think that you have to wait to tell your friends overseas: American Gut is the only Open Humans Research Partner that accepts international participants. It also accepts samples from most pets, in case any of you are curious about how your gut microbiome compares to your dog or cat’s!

To date, American Gut has released the de-identified data from ~7000 sample kits, and the number of participants continues to grow!If you want to learn more about the project, check out this recent Quantified Body podcast with Rob Knight or his TED Talk from early last year.

So, if you’re struggling with what to give your health-conscious or scientifically-curious friends and loved ones this season, consider gifting an American Gut kit! It allows people who think they know everything about themselves to learn just a little bit more. Plus, they get to make a contribution to science! What could be better than that?


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