San Francisco, Calif. (PRWEB) November 27, 2012
uBiome has launched the world's first citizen science effort to map the human microbiome, the microorganisms that inhabit every inch of our skin as well as our ears, mouth, sinuses, genitals, and gut. The biotech startup from the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) seeks to spark the era of personalized medicine by providing the public with easily accessible information about their own bodies using the latest in high-throughput DNA sequencing technology at http://www.indiegogo.com/ubiome.
uBiome provides participants with a catalog of their own microbes, detailing the microbial composition of the body and explaining what is known about each genera of microbe. In addition, uBiome compares participants’ microbiomes with scientific studies on the role of the microbiome in health, diet and lifestyle. uBiome also provides personal analysis tools and data viewers so that users can anonymously compare their own data with crowd data as well as with the latest scientific research. uBiome is HIPAA compliant and will not release personal identifying data or information to anyone.
Launched November 16, 2012, the project has garnered over $18,000 in crowdfunding from 150 participants in its first ten days. Participants from eleven different countries spanning four continents have pledged their support in exchange for getting their metagenomes sequenced, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, as well as India, Singapore, and Uruguay.
"We believe the biological information era is going to follow the same trend that the internet did. When citizens became empowered to explore the internet via search engines like Google, usage skyrocketed. With uBiome, people can have cutting edge access to the latest in biomedical science. This unparalleled access is going to change things in a big way," said uBiome co-founder Jessica Richman.
Like the rainforest, the healthy human microbiome is a balanced ecosystem. The correct balance of microbes serves to keep potential pathogens in check and regulate the immune system. Microbes also perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins. Some research also suggests that microbial activity influences mammalian mood and behavior. Studies have linked the microbiome to autism, depression, and anxiety as well as many gut disorders, eczema, and chronic sinusitis. Infant health even appears to benefit from a proper seeding of microbes at birth, with health consequences ranging into adolescence.
A decade after the human genome was sequenced, this year marked a major milestone: the completion of the Human Microbiome Project. This is the sequence of the genomes of the thousands of species of microbes living in synergy with about 250 healthy volunteers. That project defines a baseline for what "healthy" means. Researchers are now asking how the "healthy" state itself arises, for instance, how lifestyle, diet, and exercise influence the microbiome as well as how diseases like Crohn’s and diabetes occur. Sequencing a larger number and greater diversity of individuals may offer answers.
"Two hundred and fifty people is just a handful. We have two aims with uBiome. First, we want to make the science and the technology available to everyone. Now, anyone can have their microbiome sequenced and understand what that means for their own health. Second, we want to curate the world's largest microbiome dataset. Citizen science is the answer. If you'd told me even five years ago that high throughput sequencing technology would be in the hands of citizen scientists, I would have told you that you'd been watching way too many science fiction movies. Today, uBiome makes this improbable dream a reality," said co-founder Zachary Apte, PhD.
In addition to offering a unique crowdsourced approach to science, uBiome takes an equally unique approach to finances by using the crowdsourced startup funder, Indiegogo. By pledging support for uBiome, anyone can have their personal microbiome sequenced: http://www.indiegogo.com/ubiome.
uBiome takes citizen science a step further by providing users access to cutting edge laboratory research tools to directly address the latest questions in biomedical research of the human microbiome. The more people that join the uBiome community, the more statistical power the project will have to investigate connections between the microbiome and human health. For example, with 500 people, uBiome will be able to answer questions about relatively common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. With 2,500, the project can investigate connections to breast cancer. With 50,000 people, the project can begin to address multiple sclerosis and leukemia. A larger uBiome community has more statistical power and can begin to investigate more and rarer diseases in the context of the microbiome.
While sequencing the human genome provides invaluable knowledge, it is very difficult to change our genetic makeup. The microbiome, in contrast, may be more easily changed through simple means such as healthful probiotic cultures and other lifestyle interventions. The microbiome thus may provide some of the most important medical breakthroughs of our era. uBiome may ultimately empower participants to manage their microbiomes to improve their health. By joining uBiome, citizen scientists can explore their own microbiome and be partners in the process of scientific discovery.