It's a peek inside your body that might reveal some surprises for Jessica Richman. Microbes are like a window into the human body and she thinks you ought to be looking at them too.
"You can learn about your health because what's living in your gut is eating what you eat," she says. She's talking about the thousands of biological hitchhikers that live in our stomachs and around our bodies, a community known as our "microbiome."
Earlier this year, researchers at the Gladstone Institutes at UCSF helped unveil a detailed genetic map that, among other things, helped identify and catalogue all the bacteria present in the human digestive system. And, they believe that knowing which organisms are there and what they're doing can tell us a lot about what's going on in our bodies. "There have been studies that have connected the microbiome to a variety of diseases, everything from obesity to diabete," Richman says.
To take advantage of that information, Richman and her team are launching a startup called Ubiome. It's kind of a gut-level variation on gene sequencing companies like 23andMe. It's headquartered at the incubator lab at UCSF's Mission Bay campus. Associate Director Doug Crawford believes the project could pay multiple dividends. "They're turning science into impact, so it's already successful," he says.
Richman says clients will receive a kit and then be asked to send back swab samples taken from different areas of the body. She says once the microbial DNA is sequenced, the company hopes to provide valuable clues about an individual's health and lifestyle. "It looks like you're eating more carbohydrates than you think you are, or it looks like you're drinking more caffeine, because we can see those sorts of things," she explains.
Richman says the raw data could eventually be compared to other databases as research into the human microbiome advances, benefitting both individuals and the scientific community, and unlocking mysteries in our own bodies.
The test concept isn't the only innovation of the project, it's actually being funded by crowdsourcing. Using a popular site, the company has signed up more than 350 people in about two weeks. Prices start at around $70 for a single test.
Written and produced by Tim Didion