When Katie Pollard, Ph.D., looks through a microscope, she often sees something familiar staring back. It's a unique population known as our microbiome -- the microbes that live in our stomachs and could potentially improve our health if we treat them right.
"If you could, for example, take a pill or eat a macrobiotic yogurt and that would reduce your obesity, I think a lot of people would consider doing that," she says.
Pollard's lab, located at the Gladstone Institutes at UCSF, is a key player in identifying the vast array of microbes that can take up residence in the human stomach. Interest recently intensified when researchers in both Europe and the U.S. were able to trigger weight loss in mice by manipulating the bacteria in their guts, prompting hopes that the same strategy might work in humans.
"Specifically in body weight, obese people have different biomes than lean people," says Dr. Pollard.
And now, a new Bay Area company is offering customers a chance to do their own gut check. uBiome has begun mailing out kits that cost $89 for just the stomach biome and up to $400 to include other areas of the body. Results come back in about a week.
"You can use that to learn information about your microbiome," says uBiome CEO Jessica Richman. "And that information can help you to better understand what's going on in your body."
Richman says uBiome is also partnering with other companies in areas including diet and nutrition and hopes to someday offer a broad array of services based on a client's specific biome.
At Gladstone, Pollard and her team are working to identify biomarkers that could determine if a microbiome is healthy or producing disease, perhaps someday helping target weight-related diseases such as diabetes.
"So we could use the biome as a diagnostic tool, but what I'm ultimately interested in long term is not just these biomarkers for disease, but actually using what we learn from them to understand the mechanisms of disease and to hopefully find cures," she explains.
Ultimately, it unleashes the bacteria in our own bodies to help make us healthier.
Written and produced by Tim Didion