eHarmony says they match you according to your personality and Facebook lets you connect with others according to common interests. MyMicrobes wants to match you according to your gut bacteria.
A non-profit operation, MyMicrobes is asking people to sign up and get their gut bacteria sequenced. Yes, you have to provide a stool sample, but you can also use the site to share your stories of digestive distress.
This sounds like an opener to comedy skit, but there is a serious purpose. The research team is part of the Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) Consortium. They published a paper in Nature that says people seem to fall into three "enterotypes" — basically three categories of gut bacteria. It's rather like dividing the world into different biomes or habitats.
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What makes this important? Your gut bacteria respond to different drugs or diets. Finding a way to classify the kind of gut bacteria you have — essentially figuring out what is "normal" for a given type of person — will go a long way to helping diagnose problems. And those bacteria are important. They perform many functions that people need, extracting useful nutrients such as vitamins.
People certainly do want answers. Peer Bork, a biochemist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and a co-founder of the site told Nature he got the idea for MyMicrobes after getting nearly 100 emails from people concerned about their digestive problems. Plainly people are seeking answers.
Hence MyMicrobes. To join up you pay $2,100, which seems steep — Facebook is free, after all — but it covers the cost of sequencing the genomes of the critters in your guts. Members get a stool-sample kit. The sample gets sent to a lab in Paris, where the DNA is extracted. The DNA goes to Bork's lab in Germany.
There are about 100 participants so far, and the researchers' estimate is that they need about 5,000 to perform more meaningful studies. It's possible gut bacteria might show responses to non-digestie ailments as well. In the small sample that was cited in the Nature paper there were 12 genes in the gut bacteria that correlated well with age, for instance.
Image: Wikimedia Commons via National Institutes of Health