Know Your Bacteria

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An Oxford researcher offers to sell you information on the microbes in your body

A researcher from Oxford University is soliciting public contributions for a rather unusual objective—to give out information on the bacteria in their body. This project, called uBiome, asks people to send in gut samples and then puts up the results on a website for a fee. The money collected is used for research.

Called microbiomes, bacteria inside humans are as much a part of the body as any organ. According to the project website, they ‘outnumber human cells 10:1… the correct balance of microbes keeps potential pathogens in check and regulates our immune system… Studies have also linked the microbiome to human mood and behaviour, as well as many gut disorders, eczema, and chronic sinusitis.’

They also keep changing. According to a study published in Nature Genetics, the diversity of bacteria inside the mouth has come down over the ages. reports that researchers have ‘extracted DNA from tartar (calcified dental plaque) from 34 prehistoric northern European human skeletons, and traced changes in the nature of oral bacteria from the last hunter-gatherers, through the first farmers to the Bronze Age and Medieval times.’ They found that with farming and then after the Industrial Revolution, when processed sugar and flour came into vogue, there was a marked reduction in the diversity of oral bacteria, which has led to an excess of harmful caries-forming bacteria.

The uBiome project ‘can tell you what microbes are living in your body, compare you to others, and keep you up to date on research that applies to your data’, says its website.

Jessica Richman, an Oxford PhD student who started the project, was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “We are doing exploratory science, and hope to discover correlations that will be useful in understanding health and disease, new bacteria that have not been previously studied, and other knowledge.”

The service fee ranges from a little less than $100 to as much as $1,500, depending on how many kits you want and how many sites you want swabs examined from. At the top of the fee chart, you get to send in five swabs ‘from the mouth, nose, ears, genitals and gut’ and also get expert guidance on altering your lifestyle by the dictates of your body bacteria.