Faecal samples provide large-scale clues to the human microbiome
Researchers involved in the American Gut Project (AGP) have created the largest open resource network on the human microbiome with, as of 2017, 15,096 samples provided by 11,336 citizen scientists across 45 different countries – primarily from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.1
Citizen science involves members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists, to collect data. The AGP exemplifies this by involving citizen-scientists to participate in this large-scale cohort by shipping their microbiome samples through the mail at room temperature. The research findings confirm our existing knowledge of the microbiome, while also illuminating new findings.
Initiated as a joint venture between the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP) and the Human Food Project, the AGP assesses human microbiome specimens against each other and against environmental samples.
The first research finding suggests that people consuming increased and varied plant types in their diet have a more bacterially diverse gut. Those who eat more than 30 different kinds of plants each week had increased diversity of microbiota compared to those who ate ten or less plant types every week.
Secondly, in participants who reported eating more than 30 types of plants per week also appeared to have reduced resistance to antibiotics – promising preliminary findings in the field. Researchers in the AGP found less genes representative of antibiotic resistance in the faecal samples of these people.
The AGP’s research echoes existing associations between the gut microbiome and psychiatric illnesses. Individuals who reported a history of mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or bipolar disorder had more similarities in gut microbiota and bacterial groups than they did to the control group.
The AGP provides researchers a tool to document and track the impact of global homogenisation at a microbiome level, tracking the changes to individuals’ microbiome across the world as they change due to travel, westernisation of their diet, medicine interventions like antibiotics or mental illness.
- Mcdonald D, Hyde E, Debelius JW, et al. American Gut: An Open Platform for Citizen Science. mSystems. 2018;3(3):1-28.