I think it is fair to say that I have written a few posts on the evolving nature of the relationships we enjoy with the commensal and non-commensal organisms we share our human structure with. This area of interest has excited scientists from around the world and many millions of pounds have been and are been invested in the understanding of why and how these organisms contribute to health and disease.
The human gut microbiota represents the highest cell densities (1013–1014 micro-organisms) recorded in any ecosystem. Two phyla, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, dominate gut microbiota biodiversity. The gut microbiota exerts physiological functions useful for the human host such that human metabolism is the result of both microbial and human attributes. However, deviation away from gut microbial balance, or ‘dysbiosis’, (here defined as a state of imbalance in the gut microbial ecosystem, including overgrowth of some organisms and loss of others) has been repeatedly reported in numerous intra and extra luminal diseases and may have an impact on host metabolism.
Gut microbiota interact with both innate and adaptive immune system, playing a pivotal role in maintenance and disruption of gut immune quiescence. A cross talk between the mucosal immune system and endogenous microflora favours a mutual growth, survival and inflammatory control of the intestinal ecosystem. This concept makes the dietary and supplemental manipulation of these organisms a realistic, albeit somewhat novel approach to managing and treating a wide variety of human health conditions.
So how do we know what we have inside us?
Recorded observations indicating an association between intestinal microbes and health are long-standing in terms of specific diseases, but emerging high-throughput technologies that characterise microbial communities in the intestinal tract are suggesting new roles for the supposedly normal microbiome. One novel approach to discovering at least in part the nature of your bacterial bedfellows is being promoted by a crowd funded research team called uBiome based in the USA.
What is uBiome?
uBiome is a citizen science startup that helps the public sequence their microbiomes. You get access to cutting edge DNA sequencing technology to find out what’s in your microbiome, and then you can find out how you correlate with others in our data set and with existing studies of the microbiome.
It should be noted that microbiome sequencing results between people, and even from different samples from the same individual will usually differ, and it is not unusual for results to not be 100% replicable. A certain portion, sometimes very small, of the microbiome is in flux due to temporal or environmental factors, and thus, there is always some amount of variability involved when sampling the microbiome. The important consideration is that the core components remain somewhat constant and the relative abundance range of more abundant species remains within range and does not fluctuate so much as to give different interpretations of results.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen science is scientific research conducted by nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing. Traditionally, citizen scientists contributed to scientific endeavours by collecting and analysing data. uBiome takes citizen science to the next level by providing access to cutting edge research tools that directly address the latest questions in biomedical research. In addition, citizen science projects encourage engagement in scientific research and public understanding of science.
If you are interested this may present a cost effective way of accumulating data and as more people provide samples and medical backgrounds the data base will evolve. Interested? why not learn more by visiting their web site: http://ubiome.com/
 Purchiaroni F, Tortora A, Gabrielli M, Bertucci F, Gigante G, Ianiro G, Ojetti V, Scarpellini E, Gasbarrini A. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Feb;17(3):323-33. Review. View Full Paper