“Citizen scientists” sought to help identify the gut microbiome’s relationship to food

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Gut microbiome Probiota americas Probiotics Danone North America

A new research project is underway that gives a few hundred lucky Americans the chance to map out their gut microbiome.

UC San Diego teamed up with Danone Nutricia Research, the research and innovation division of Danone North America’s global parent company, for the project that recently kicked off. 

The Microsetta Initiative is currently recruiting “citizen scientists” in the United States to map their gut microbiome in the first phase of the research program called “The Human Diets & Microbiome Initiative”​ (THDMI). The goal is to better understand the best diets and foods for the human gut microbiomes. 

Professor Rob Knight, faculty director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at University of California, San Diego and the leader of the Microsetta Initiative said, “With the support of citizen scientists and the structure of the Microsetta Initiative, THDMI is employing cutting-edge metagenomic techniques and using the latest shotgun sequencing technology to map the gut microbiome, providing a deeper level of analysis than is typically performed for this type of project.”

Participants can register for a limited number of free kits

“This is the beginning of a very large project. In the US, we are aiming for 800 citizen scientists to be involved,” ​Kristie Leigh, RD, senior manager, Scientific Affairs for Danone North America told NutraIngredients-USA.

Miguel Freitas, PhD, VP Scientific Affairs for Danone North America, added that, “This research has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people, and is consistent with our global ambition to bring health through food to as many people as possible.”

Leigh told us that “Once we get those 800, we’ll be mapping their microbiomes, UC San Diego will be mapping and assessing their questionnaires, and taking information in order to make these diet-microbiome-related correlations.” 

She added that the worldwide project will be moving to other countries. 

“I believe it is a 3-5 year overall  project, as far as when the US is going to wrap up, it really depends on how quickly our recruitment goes.” 

How it works

“So you register to receive a kit, which comes with a couple tubes and then you just do a swab. You put it inside the tube and you ship it and then it goes to the lab at UC San Diego,”​ explained Freitas.

Participants later receive a free, personalized microbiome and diet report.

Freitas told us the initiative started because they identified a need to better understand the human microbiome and  its relationship to dietary patterns.

“To my knowledge, it’s the most comprehensive approach to understanding the human gut microbiome, but also it’s relationship to diet. Previously, the efforts were on the microbiomes relationship to disease.  This is really more focused on diet and the gut."

Is one sample enough?

“There’s just one sample. It’s a very good point. So that’s why we need a large amount of people and when you give your sample, you’re also asked to answer a very comprehensive survey that will recall from your past day or your past week, for example if you have taken antibiotics in the last week, some of the foods you ate. So you will have to spend approximately an hour answering that survey and that is really the most important piece of this because it will help us make those correlations.  

Freitas told NutraIngredients-USA​ that in addition to each person receiving their own individual data analysis and group data as a whole will be available to the general public. 

“So any other food company, any other academic institution can consult that data. We’re not just only doing this because we're a food company, we’re interested in ways to improve people's microbiomes and to improve their knowledge.”

Calling all “Citizen scientists” 

Do you want to be part of the ‘gut revolution’? Citizen scientists across the US are currently being recruited. The first 800 adults who register and are currently living in the US will qualify to receive a sample collection kit at no cost. 

To learn more about becoming a “citizen scientist” visit www.thdmi.org​.

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