Stool Samples for Science: For Jack Gilbert’s next research project, he’ll be exploring a dark, mysterious place where thousands of unique species live, many of them unknown to science. He’ll be collecting samples of those species, cataloging them and trying to understand how they live.
Image: Enterococcus faecalis, a bacterium species that lives in the human gut. A new project is looking for volunteers to donate stool, skin and mouth samples for a study about the bacteria that live in human intestines. Credit: USDA
He’s not heading out on an expedition to the seafloor, a deep cave or anywhere else to do it, however. The specimens will be coming to him, by mail, in the form of thousands of scrapings from people’s skin, mouths and stools.
“Of course it’s gross, but science and helping people is more important than our sensibilities,” Gilbert, who normally studies marine bacteria at the University of Chicago, told TechNewsDaily.
Want to send Gilbert a bit of you? Simply visit his study’s crowd-funding page and order a $99 kit to participate.
It’s a project whose time has come, says Lita Proctor, who coordinates the Human Mircobiome Project for the National Institutes of Health. She said DNA-analyzing technology — and social media — are finally ready to handle the task, which is being called the American Gut Project.
Ultimately, Gilbert and 28 other U.S. university researchers participating in the American Gut Project hope they can persuade 10,000 people to send scrapings. From those submissions, the researchers hope to learn more about how bacteria, health and diet are related. “How does the Atkins diet affect gut bacteria populations?” and “What bacteria do thinner people tend to have?” are the kinds of questions they should be able to answer, Gilbert said.
As long as they can gather enough volunteers, they plan to publish their first results sometime in 2014, he added.