The “quantified self” movement might need a new name. Enthusiasts are now tracking not just themselves but the trillions of bacteria that live in and on their bodies.
Self-trackers use smartphone apps and gadgets to keep tabs on how much they exercise and what they eat—as well as their blood sugar levels and heart rate, and more—in the hope of finding new ways to improve their health. Taking note of the way microbial inhabitants of the body can affect health (see “Transplanting Gut Microbe to Treat Disease”), some are also looking for connections between their health and their microbial makeup (see “The Patient of the Future”).
Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health published the most extensive catalogue yet of the bacteria that live in and on the human body (“Researchers Catalogue Your Microbial Zoo”). But a group of researchers based in San Francisco wants to explore the so-called microbiome more broadly. “The [NIH] researchers found a lot of amazing things, but they only looked at 250 people,” says Jessica Richman, cofounder of uBiome, a project that is crowdfunding its first round of sampling through Indiegogo. “One thing uBiome can contribute is a greater diversity of samples by involving people in regions not included in the NIH project. Our project works in any part of the world.”
Participants can purchase in-home sampling kits, and uBiome will provide surveys that ask questions about their health, diet, environment, and more. They hope this might reveal correlations between the microbial species and survey responses. Do people who drink a lot of coffee have a different farm of bacteria than those who don’t? Do people with a certain disease tend to lack a species found in most other people?