Many people don’t realize that the bacteria that live inside us play an incredibly important role in our health. There are so many of them, that they make up 90 percent of the cells in our body and their most important jobs include manufacturing vitamins for us and breaking down and digesting our food. The trillions of bacteria in our gut weigh nearly 2 kg (over 4lbs). This community of bacteria can be thought of as an extra ‘organ’ which we call our “microbiome”. We evolved together with our microbiome over millions of years. Recent research has discovered that small changes in this finely balanced community can affect our immune system, metabolism, body weight, mood and may even cause diseases such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes and heart disease.
This is the first project of its kind in Europe and, with your help, we will be able to discover more about the crucial relationship between our health and our microbiome, and on a personal level, you will be able to discover the bacterial profile of your own gut. With your help, we hope to be able to answer questions such as ‘How much does our choice of lifestyle and diet influence our microbiome, and can we alter our microbiome to make us healthier?’
We are discovering that each person is very different and has their own unique microbiome. More research is needed to work out what constitutes a ‘healthy’ microbiome, and which combinations of bacteria should try and be avoided. In order to do this ambitious and much-needed project, we urgently need a large scale collection of human samples. Over 7 thousand people have already signed up in America already- but we need many more from UK Europe.
The project mainly focuses on the gut as this is our main ‘microbial home’, however, the study will also look at oral, skin and (for women) vaginal communities as these areas of the body have problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, acne and infertility and may be influenced by the microbiome.
What does it entail?
First you need to sign up (see Perks on the right) and select your level of contribution to the project. Within two weeks, you will receive a kit in the mail together with detailed instructions on how to proceed. Shipping within the UK first class should be around £2.90, but we recommend taking the sample to the post office to get the proper postage. Getting the postage right on the first try is important since samples that spend a long time in transit will likely not produce the highest quality results. After you have returned your sample to us, the samples will be processed and analysed by the Knight Lab at University of California, San Diego and you will be provided with a list of the major groups of bacteria in your sample and the proportions in which they are found. We estimate that this will take around 3 months (but possibly longer) and once we provide you with your results, you will be able to see how your bacterial community compares to others in the study. From the diet and lifestyle information that you provide, we will also be able to show you how your results compare to other people who are within the same diet and lifestyle group as you (but having a very different result to them does not necessarily mean anything bad, it can just be that you have experienced slight lifestyle differences that mean that your bacterial profile is different).
Please note that this is a scientific study, not a clinical or commercial project, and we will not be able to provide you with any clinical information related to your microbiome profile.
How will my sample be used?
The British Gut project, like the American model, gives participants the opportunity to compare their personal microbiome profiles to family members, and other people both in the UK and abroad. Our project is based on the principles of ‘access to all’. The data collected from the sample you provide will be shared anonymously both with participants and scientists, allowing many different scientific hypotheses and questions to be answered using your valuable sample.
We look forward to working together on this new and exciting project. If you have any questions, email us at info [AT] britishgut [DOT] org