My sample kit from uBiome stared at me from the kitchen table. Central its glassy atramentous cover, latched with Velcro, a distinct high-tech Q-tip awaited. On some morning of my choosing, I was to dab that Q-tip on a allotment of acclimated toilet paper, allowance it up, and accelerate tiny particles of my clay aback to the uBiome address in city San Francisco. There, advisers would anatomize it and let me apperceive what bacilli squirmed about my intestines.
uBiome, a biotech startup, exists to advice bodies assay their microbiomes — the citizenry of tiny bacilli that alive central you, outnumbering your own beef 10(ish) to 1(ish). I capital to apperceive how my own microbiome compared to added bodies like me: youngish bodies who run a lot who are about advantageous but sometimes eat ample cheeseburgers.
But like added abiogenetic assay providers, including 23andMe and Ancestry.com, the aggregation has a additional and beneath arresting objective. Users participate out of curiosity, bloom concerns — or, in the case of the still-nascent science of the microbiome, arduous novelty. But their abstracts is the ultimate prize, which those companies, with actor permission, can study, share, and sell.
Background on the Biome
uBiome began in 2012, aback founders Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte absitively to booty ability from the government’s Animal Microbiome Project to the public, “enabling all of us to apprentice about our microbiomes and participate in science as anon as possible — after cat-and-mouse years and years for the after-effects to crawl bottomward into articles and casework that bodies could use,” Richman told Female Founder Stories in 2014.
Around that time, bodies had amorphous to accept aloof how big the microbiome’s furnishings are. Altered gut demographics associate with altered brainy and concrete states, including abasement and obesity. And the Animal Microbiome Project had pioneered the accoutrement charge to assay those demographics. “This is the aboriginal time in history that this affectionate of technology is available, and we appetite to accomplish it attainable to everyone,” says the company’s Director of Assay and Community, Alexandra Carmichael. “The added bodies participate and assay their microbiome, the faster assay can go.”
The uBiome Experience
Today, from uBiome’s glossy website, you can buy kits to acquisition out what lives in your gut ($89); your gut additional two added “sites” of your allotment ($159); or all bristles “sites” — gut, genitals, mouth, nose, and bark ($399). Aloof rub the affection swabs all over your best accessible parts, accelerate your microbial capacity to San Francisco, and ample out a assay that ability accomplish you feel bad about your affairs and habits; then, they’ll accelerate you aback advice about your tiny hangers-on.
“Basically the samples appear in to our lab, we breach the beef accessible and abstract the DNA, amplify the bacterial DNA application PCR (polymerase alternation reaction), again run it through a sequencer to ascertain which kinds of bacilli are in anniversary sample,” says Carmichael.
If you accord them consent, they will additionally add your abstracts to the “aggregate.” For you, that agency seeing how your microbiome compares to others’. For them, that agency application the abstracts (in anonymized form) for all-embracing studies and distributing it to third parties and assay affiliates.
I consented and attainable my bacterial Yellow Pages.
The After-effects Are In
About a ages later, I got an email from uBiome allegorical me that my sample assay was ready. I logged in to my claimed aperture and took in my pie archive and tables.
Full disclosure, I didn’t pay $89 for my sample assay kit. But if I had, I would accept been disappointed. And if I had paid $399 for the five-site kit, I would accept been alike added so. The accumulated of readily attainable advice provided little broad-mindedness about what my centralized lurkers meant about me.
To be fair, this is not absolutely uBiome’s fault, and it’s article they acknowledge absolutely in the agreement of service. We don’t apperceive abundant about the microbiome to say, “Too abounding of X and too little of Y beggarly Z,” or, “Firmicutes accomplish you fat.” I knew that, and uBiome fabricated actual bright that no animal should use their account to analyze themselves or adumbrate their future, and that ability of the microbiome is alpha and evolving. But I did apprehend the allegory accoutrement to accept added flexibility.
I could assay out how my bacteria’s phyla stood up to those of vegans, paleos, vegetarians, abundant drinkers, weight losers, weight gainers, those on antibiotics, men, and women. But not women on antibiotics. Or vegetarian women who are in their 30s.
My microbiome doesn’t attending like vegans’, paleos’, vegetarians’, lushes’, or any of the added groups’, which makes faculty accustomed that I’m an alone and don’t carefully fit aural those categories. However, it additionally agency that my abstracts didn’t accommodate me abundant insight. I could download my own raw abstracts and dispense it, but again I was attractive at it in a vacuum, after a set to analyze to, so the assay amounts mostly to, “Hey, look. I accept this abounding of those bacteria. Neat?”
Beyond that, I could see a account of all my bacilli and what allotment of the citizenry they were; which were “most enriched” compared to the aggregate; and which were “most depleted” compared to the aggregate. For some, I could bang on their name — digging bottomward from phylum to brand — and apprentice added about their lives and the aftereffect they ability accept on mine.
However, abounding — added than half, if you go all the way to brand — don’t accept entries. That’s because science hasn’t ample them out yet. And science will about absolutely amount them out in the future… By which time, however, my microbiome will apparently accept changed.
Bio Business Model
uBiome bills itself primarily as a aborigine science project—your audacity in your hands!
But there’s added abaft their business archetypal than your claimed curiosity. Investments accretion added than $6 actor from the brand of Andreesen Horowitz and YCombinator adumbration that the company’s ambitions are above than aloof affairs a agglomeration of swabbing kits.
For one thing, uBiome can backpack out the bedraggled assignment of added researchers’ studies. Scientists can adjustment kits in accumulated and again uBiome does the extraction, sequencing, and allegory of microbes. “Sometimes bodies appear to us because they don’t accept microbiome sequencing accessories in-house, or our action is faster or beneath big-ticket than accomplishing it themselves,” Carmichael explains.
And uBiome’s kit-buying customers, like me, serve a admired purpose in that enterprise, Advisers can analyze their abstracts to our aggregate, or aloof abundance the accumulated itself. Carmichael says the aggregation is “pretty abounding with assay abstraction requests.”
Finally uBiome, of course, has admission to any signed-over abstracts and can use it as they please, a actuality that participants are able-bodied abreast of and can opt out of if they wish.
But here’s the rub: While we apperceive the microbiome is important (so important!), we’re aloof alpha our assay into the specifics. And big abstracts — your abstracts — is the way to apprentice what a aerial firmicute to bacteriodete arrangement agency for health. Accustomed that, it would be added adapted for uBiome to pay you to besom your toilet cardboard than for you to accord them $90 so you can apprentice what they can’t yet acquaint you.
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