Ever wondered who’s living in your gut and what they’re doing? Our trillions of microbial partners - symbionts - outnumber our own cells by as many as 10 to 1 in and on our own bodies, and do all sorts of important jobs from chewing up the food we eat to building up the immune system. Previous projects designed to study symbionts, including the five-year $173-million NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project, have usually focused on highly selected groups of people, and there has been no way for the general public to participate, much less their children or pets.
Now, the new American Gut Project, initiated by Rob Knight and Jeff Leach, led by the Human Food Project and linking investigators around the world including Foods for Health Institute researchers David Mills and Bruce German, lets everyone get involved through open source technology.
"The ability to now inexpensively track the billions of microbes in each persons gut is a watershed moment with profound implications toward how diets can improve to human health," said David Mills the Shields Endowed Chair in Dairy Science in the Department of Food Science & Technology at UC Davis who is leading a Gates Foundation Grant effort to explore how milk components can reduce devastating diarrhea in at risk children in developing countries.
"This project truly brings together a dream team of microbiome investigators,” said Rob Knight an Associate Professor with the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a co-founder of the American Gut Project. “And building a framework where we can join together to understand the microbiome is critical”.
The gut microbiome has been linked to many diseases, including obesity, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease: interestingly, all these diseases are much more common in Western populations. “We should start thinking about diets not only from the perspective of what we should eat, but what we should be feeding our entire supraorganism," says Jeff Leach founder of the Human Food Project and co-founder of American Gut Project. Leach, trained as an anthropologist, has studied hunter-gatherer societies and hopes to use the American Gut Project to compare Westernized populations with those elsewhere in the world.
The ability to characterize the health of individuals through detailed measurements is emerging as one of the exciting public health innovations made possible by technologies such as sequencing, imaging, multiplexed bioassays and high throughput analytical chemistry. The University of California, Davis is a leader in the 'phenotyping' of humans and the ability to precisely measure the microbiota of individuals as a key dimension to their overall health is one of the exciting applications of the American Gut Project.
Read this as a press release from the University of Colorado, Bolder.