* * * YOU CAN STILL JOIN THE STUDY * * *
Click HERE to join American Gut.
Anyone in the world can sign up.
*Note this is a "Flexible Funding" campaign so the project and all analysis will go forward regardless if the funding goal is reached. So join us, you are in no matter what! Anyone in the world can sign up.
The Human Microbiome Project and other microbiome projects worldwide have laid an important foundation for understanding the trillions of microbes that inhabits each of our bodies. However, opportunities for the public to get involved in such research has been limited. Now, American Gut gives you an opportunity to participate and to compare the microbes in your gut to those in the guts of thousands of other people in the US and elsewhere. American Gut is a project built on open-source, open-access principles. Our data are for the good of understanding and will be shared both with participants and with other scientists. Our experience has been that our best ideas and work come when we involve people in as many steps of our work as possible, be they scientists, educators, roofers, ultra-marathon runners or corporate leaders. Everyone has something to offer, whether their sample, their hypotheses, their analyses or their dog (yes, their dog, we will get back to that). The more we can understand the complex microbial ecosystems on which we depend, the more everyone will benefit.
- See how your microbiome compares to others and learn how your diet & lifestyle may shape your gut microbiome
- Our team of 30 scientists has published over 800 papers
- Our team has sequenced thousands of samples from all over the world
- We start mailing out the PERKs (kits) in February (note that this is a "Flexible Funding" campaign and anyone who joins will be able to participate, even if we do not reach our funding goal. Giddy up folks!)
“By combining the crowd-funding model with the open-access data analysis model that we pioneered with the Earth Microbiome Project, we can finally give anyone with an interest in his or her microbiome an opportunity to participate,” said Knight, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist.
What is American Gut?
You’ve probably heard by now that the trillions of microbes living on and in our bodies are changing both the way we think about health and disease and even how we define Self. Ever wonder what’s in your gut? Ever wonder how your diet might shift your gut microbes (for better or worse), or how simple lifestyle decisions may have a dramatic impact on your gut and overall health? Ever wonder which microbes on your husband sometimes make him smell funny?
The gut is our main focus, but it is also interesting to look at oral, skin and even vaginal communities for several reasons. It might be possible to develop biomarkers--canaries in our corporeal coal mines that let us predict aspects of your gut health based on a spit sample or a reading (swabbing) of your palm. We know, for example, that arterial plaque shares microbes with the mouth but not with the gut. Could we use plaque samples to predict features of our hearts? Maybe. (Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org)
Click here for some common FAQs.
The developing gut ecosystem: Different human body habitats like the mouth, the skin, the vagina, and, of course, the gut are very different from one another. However, our gut changes profoundly during the course of our development. This image and the movie linked below show the Human Microbiome Project from the $173 million NIH-funded project (each dot represents one body site from one person), along with the developmental trajectory of one infant’s gut from birth (where it resembles the mother’s vaginal community) over the first 2.5 years of life. At the end, it resembles the adult gut, shown here in a color Crayloa should have called fecal brown.
Does diet matter? If so, who has the best diet from the perspective of your gut microbiome?
Yes, definitely, at least if you are a mouse (though if you are a mouse and can read you have bigger worries). We can completely transform a mouse microbiome in one day by starving them or switching them to a high-fat diet. But people are not mice -- researchers are great at curing diseases in mice, but with people it’s a bit harder. In humans, even a year on a different diet has relatively subtle effects on who’s in your gut (but larger effects on their relative abundances). In the elderly, people with better diets also have much better health outcomes, but we don’t know what part of this, if any, is due to microbial activity. Human diets vary to the extreme, from complete herbivory (vegans) to something close to pure carnivory. By reaching out to people with all types of diets, whether voluntary due to personal beliefs or to enhance athletic performance, or required by conditions such as celiac disease, we can reach a much broader range of eaters and potentially a much broader range of microbiomes -- but American Gut needs all comers. We will also be able to cross-reference your data with those living traditional lifestyles such as hunter-gatherers and farmers across the globe (see below), from Peru to Namibia. However, to do this, good diet information (and other possible influences from smoking to antibiotics) is critical, and so we’ll ask you to fill in detailed information about these factors in the questionnaire with your kit. Your diet and other health information are essential to the project, so please plan on bringing it along! So how does your diet and lifestyle shape your gut microbiome? And how does it compare to folks following different diets - and does it even matter? Most likely yes. Only one way to find out.
American Gut - all the cool kids are doing it
Lots of great and interesting microbiomes are joining the project. We know that Lady Gaga is covered in microbes. Wouldn’t you love to know how your gut compares to hers? Well, Lady Gaga hasn’t agreed to participate (yet. If you and she are buddies, you might give her a nudge), but author Michael Pollan is giving it up for science and will be writing about his participation in American Gut (and his microbiome) for the New York Times in the New Year - so don’t miss it! Also, Dean Karnazes (world’s most famous ultramarathon runner, 50 marathons in 50 days - yeah, that guy!) is joining as well, and along with and Shannon Ford (Mrs. United States 2011, gluten-free eater and Paleo Diet advocate), will be sharing their results with the community. But most people will participate privately, and your privacy will be protected (see below).
On the science side, we have assembled a world-class team of experts on the human genome, microbiome, and microbiome in human disease susceptibility and evolution, including many of the key players in the Human Microbiome Project, the Earth Microbiome Project, and Yourwildlife.org to do the sequencing, analyze your data, and deliver the results back in a comprehensible way (like the National Geographic Genographic project, we understand how important it is to you to have some information about your information that you can show off to your friends and family). With the number of subjects and diversity of ages, backgrounds and lifestyles we can encompass in American Gut, we will be able to make progress in a way that is difficult with smaller, more targeted studies on individual diseases or diets. Additionally, we are using a truly open model based on the Earth Microbiome Project: all sequence data will be released as soon as it comes off the sequencer so that anyone can look at it (but not, of course, at your personally identifying information, which will be protected), and the data analysis will be performed openly and with everyone invited to participate. Because of our collaborations we will also be able to compare a subset of our results to the microbes living in people’s houses, the genes of the sampled folks (maybe you) and more.
Why it's important and what we hope to learn
We know that many factors can affect the gut microbiome -- how old you are, what you eat, whether you have kids or pets, whether you smoke or drink and how much, where you live and have lived before -- but we don’t know which of these is most important or what specific microbes are involved. Nor do we know when these factors are important. Does their importance depend on the climate (maybe), on your genes (almost certainly) or something else (who knows). By enrolling everyone who wants to participate, we can look for people who look unusual and test whether there is anything they share. (Questions? email@example.com).
If you are a Type 2 diabetic, you can also get on a list to be considered for a FREE kit - click here.
How you can help
Because so little is known about the gut microbiota in general -- the projects performed to date, although extremely valuable, have generally focused on very carefully chosen groups of people being studied for specific purposes (they reflect our diversity to about the same extent that Congress does...). We want real diversity--your diversity--be it in terms of ethnicity, diet, lifestyle, how often you wash, or something else! And, because this is a crowdfunded project, we also need your financial support. While paying for studies of microbes has become cheaper, money that pays for the time of scientists, reagents and, and you aren’t going to believe this, a robot (more on the robot later). So, you might be asking yourself, if you contribute to see what lives in you what do you get in return? Like other crowdfunded projects, American Gut will give you rewards (“PERKs”) to say thank you for your support. You will get a list of the dominant microbes in your gut, and several visualizations showing how they compare to the population at large (charts showing the dominant kinds of microbes along with what they are most associated with, and an overall view of the kinds of possible microbial configurations and how they compare to other people, including the Human Microbiome Project). Like the Genographic project, we will also include some visualizations showing where else on earth similar microbes have been found, using the Earth Microbiome Project data.
If you are a Type 2 diabetic, you can also get on a list to be considered for a FREE kit - click here.
We started looking at the dog gut microbiota in 2008 to start understanding the role of genetics in influencing microbial communities, and to look at microbe transfer within families. Dogs are also a lot less concerned with privacy than people are, at least based on what they are willing to do in public! They are interesting because they aren’t as artificial as lab animals, and share more of the genetic and diet variation that we see in humans, as well as letting us understand the relationships between our microbiota and that of our non-human companions. Note that the kits for dogs and humans are the same. Read the PERKS below for more information.
How it works
First thing you need to do is decide on your PERK and join our little project to unravel the microbial diversity that is the American Gut (and mouth and skin). Once our IndieGoGo effort closes in the first part of January, they will send us a list of everyone that has volunteered to help and for which PERK(s) they are most interested. We will then start sending out kits in January. Once you receive your kit, follow the instructions and send back your sample(s). Each kit will be identified with a special ID number that you will also use when you fill out the online questionnaire and to retrieve your results. Please note that everyone that volunteers and receives a kit, will be asked to fill out an online questionnaire with some basics about yourself, diet and lifestyle. Importantly, and this is critical, you will be asked to provide 3 days of detailed dietary information. This will allow us to compare vegetarians to omnivores to junk food eaters to folks with IBD to gluten-free eaters and so on.
In order to get accurate dietary info, we strongly urge you to use an online tool (if you do not already do so) to provide us with the 3 days of dietary info we need. We know entering so much information is a pain in the you-know-what, but it will make your sample -- and our project -- more meaningful. So it never hurts to start practicing before you receive your kit. We recommend the following free sites for data entry and highly recommend you start practicing:
Also, folks that can provide more than 3 days of data - say a month - will be super interesting to us. You will have the opportunity when you fill out the online questionnaire (again, which you will do ‘when’ you receive your kit) to provide that extended info. Specifically, samples with the most detailed and extended dietary data will be processed first.
Below are some images of people and robots in the Knight lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the labs that will be processing samples from the American Gut project, showing sampling with swabs and one of our liquid-handling robots (and when it comes down to it, who doesn’t get into science for the robots?). If you are a Type 2 diabetic, you can also get on a list to be considered for a FREE kit - click here.
What you get
All PERKs include a sampling kit of pre-labeled tubes and instructions for use will start being mailed in January. Samples need to be returned within a day or two of collection. Depending on the PERK, you may get information about the microbes that are present in one sample, in samples collected across your body or across your family, or over time. You may get a readout of what kinds of microbes were in the sample (the microbiota), or, for PERKs that include functional characterization (shotgun metagenomics, shotgun metatranscriptomics, etc.) you may be able to see what the microbes are doing as well as who they are. All PERKs come with a display of your data suitable for framing that shows how your samples integrate with the rest of the world, as well as some information about the dominant kinds of microbes found in your sample and what they do. Additionally, all American Gut samples will be entered into a database so you will be able to look up your sample by a unique identifier known only to you and to the Institutional Review Board-approved staff and see how it compares to others as additional samples accumulate.
Open source learning and citizen science - it just has to be
Data from American Gut will be open source and be included as part of the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP), which is a massively collaborative international study aimed at systematically characterizing microbial life on earth. The EMP would like to sample every environment on Earth to catalogue which microbes are there and how abundant are they. The open source nature of our project is important because data should be free, the only way to make best use of data from massive studies is to give it to the world and see what they can do with it. The EMP, for example, uses crowd-sourced analysis to help interpret the data and provide comprehensive exploration of the full breadth of the dataset. But please be assured, your personal data will never be revealed - ever.
Summary of PERKS
Couple of things (please read folks):
- If you donate $99, receive 1 kit that can be used for either a stool, skin, or oral sample. Donate $180, receive two kits - which can be for two people (stool samples) or just for you - maybe one stool and one oral sample. If you donate $260 to the project, you will receive 3 kits and a donation of $320 gets you four kits. You get the idea. If you are interested in helping out further and would like to get more than four kits, donate the $320 and get four kits and then donate again for however many kits you would like.
- Volunteers (that means you) will be responsible for postage (~$1.95 for a single sample) to ship your sample(s) to the University of Colorado at Boulder.
- You can donate to American Gut and give the PERK as a gift. Address options available during sign up process.
Privacy is protected by de-identifying the samples on receipt, sending you your unique code, and performing all downstream data analyses only with that code. Information likely to be identifying will be scrubbed from the records before posting. We will not store your personally identifying information in any database or release it on the internet in any way. There is a theoretical possibility that you might be identified by the information you provide (e.g. you might be the only 400-lb vegan of Kazakh descent in Wasilla), but we will take all reasonable precautions to avoid inadvertent identification of participants. All human-subjects aspects of the project have been approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Colorado, and all animal aspects by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Transfer of materials to other sites is covered by code access agreements. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
All of the funds from this campaign are sent directly to the Earth Microbiome Project at the University of Chicago.