The American Gut Project
Serving Food for Thought: the world’s largest citizen science microbiome project.
Scientists at the University of California San Diego and collaborators have initiated the American Gut Project, a crowdsourced, global citizen science effort over 5 years ago. Now in May 2018 they published the first results.
Over 15.000 microbiome samples from over 11.000 participants from mostly the United States, United Kingdom and Australia but also from 42 other countries and territories were analyzed. All of the data collected by the American Gut Project are publicly available, without participants’ personal information. This open access approach allows researchers around the world to use these data for their own research.
Everyone can participate: citizen scientists contribute 99 $ and receive a kit to either collect a fecal, skin or mouth sample.
With this project the scientists (Rob Knight, Jeff Leach, Jack Gilbert and Daniel McDonald, scientific director of the project) want to have a larger view on the populations’ microbiome and indeed they already found that the microbial diversity across more different populations is higher than in small studies.
Some interesting results they found so far:
- The more different plant types a person eats, the higher the microbial diversity of the gut. Persons who ate 30 or more different plant types a week, had microbiomes that were more diverse than those of people who ate only 10 plant types or less per week.
- The administration of antibiotics lowered the microbial diversity of the gut, as expected. One surprising result was, that the diversity of the molecules found in people who had taken antibiotics, was much higher than in people who haven´t taken antibiotics for more than a year. These molecules found seem to be linked to the exposure to antibiotics. This is one mystery that has to be explored now.
- Another unexpected result was the detection of agricultural antibiotics in people who claimed that they haven’t taken antibiotics in the year prior to their sample collection. This means that with the meat we eat, we still might take up antibiotics which harm our microbiome.
- Comparison of two distinct Western populations revealed significant differences in the diversity of the samples: people in the UK seemed to have a higher microbial diversity than people form the US.
- The researchers discovered a link between the composition of the microbiome and people with depression. Although taken from two different sides of the Atlantic, the samples proved to be consistent in the US and UK populations. This shows that the microbiome and disease strongly influence each other, independent of the environment the person lives in.
Something that is very special and important about this project, is that all data are being analyzed with the same consistent methods, so all results, generated from samples all over the world, can be compared directly with each other. (The American Gut Project is part of the Earth Microbiome Project.)
The collected samples are mostly collected from the US, UK and Australia. In order to receive a representative set of samples from every country worldwide, McDonald and his colleagues started a further project, the Microsetta Initiative. In this initiative they are closely working together with collaborators all over the world.
Everyone is invited to become a citizen scientist – become part of the world’s largest citizen science microbiome project!