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A Look in the Gut

Peeking into your gut microbiome might not tell you much just yet, writes Sarah Scoles at The Crux.

She sent off fecal samples to uBiome, a biotech startup, for analysis. uBiome launched in 2012, and for $89, $159, or $399, it will tell customers what bacteria lurk in their gut, their gut plus two other spots, or all five major sites, respectively.

As Scoles notes, the company also aggregates customer data, with their permission, so customers can compare themselves to the whole and so the company can use the data in large-scale studies as well as provide it to third parties.

When she got her results, Scoles says she was disappointed. "The amount of readily available information provided little enlightenment about what my internal lurkers meant about me," she writes.

She could, she adds, compare her gut microbiome to those of vegans, vegetarians, heavy drinkers, people on antibiotics, men, and women, among a few other categories, though only at the phylum level. She could also see a list of her bacteria and whether certain ones were enriched or depleted within her microbiome.

Scoles notes, though, that uBiome was upfront about what it could and could not tell its users.

"But here's the rub: While we know the microbiome is important (so important!), we're just beginning our research into the specifics," she says. "And big data — your data — is the way to learn what a high firmicute to bacteriodete ratio means for health. Given that, it would be more appropriate for uBiome to pay you to swab your toilet paper than for you to give them $90 so you can learn what they can't yet tell you."