Poop. It’s fun to say, funny to talk about, and makes for an all-purpose emoji. But who wants to actually handle it?
Now, researchers of the American Gut Project at the University of California, San Diego, may be giving people new motivations to not only retain a stool sample, but pack it up and ship it to them. According to Inside Science, a team led by biologist Rob Knight is currently welcoming fecal samples from the public at large to analyze their microbiome profiles.
The microbiome is the assembly of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live in and on our bodies, which can change in response to lifestyle habits like diet and exercise. Recent research suggests that some microbiome profiles may make people predisposed to conditions like obesity and cancer, and might even influence our mental health. Altering the microbiome may have potentially beneficial health effects, which is why researchers like Knight are looking to collect data—in this case, poop.
“Your microbiome weighs about as much as your brain does—you're talking about a couple of pounds of material,” Knight told Inside Science. “And it certainly has more cells, way more genes, arguably as much complexity as your brain. And we're just starting to understand the far-reaching effects that it has on the rest of your body.”
Knight says that over 10,000 people have already donated their excrement for science as part of the project. And it's already producing results. In the first published study of the American Gut Project's work, which appeared in the American Society for Microbiology's journal mSystems in May 2018, the researchers found that plant-heavy diets led to a more diverse bacterial colony in stomachs than people who ate comparatively fewer types of greens. Their data also showed some preliminary evidence that people with mental health complaints tended to have similar microbiomes as people who reported the same issues.
Knight and his colleagues would love to analyze your poop in an effort to compile more information, but there is a catch: Donors have to pay a $99 fee to join the project, an informal kind of crowdfunding that keeps the research financed. If you submit a sample—basically a poop swab taken from your used toilet tissue—the team at Human Gut will send you a personalized microbiome profile and an assessment of how your gut flora compares with the rest of the population. For incrementally larger fees, you might be able to see how your diet, level of exercise, and family members' flora affect your microbiome at finer resolutions. They’ll even test your dog’s donations.
You can join the effort here. The future of poop research thanks you for your participation.
[h/t SF Gate]