The American Gut is a regional project of The Microsetta Intiative and is based out of the Knight Lab at the University of California San Diego-meaning all samples provided by American Gut citizen science participants are processed by technicians working in the Knight Lab. The Knight Lab is one of the largest microbiome research labs in the world, processing samples from hundreds of projects at a rate of ~100,000 per year. Notably, the protocols used by the lab to process these samples have been extensively tested and benchmarked and are freely available from the Earth Microbiome Project’s website.
History of American Gut
The American Gut Project, an Earth Microbiome Project study co-founded by Dr. Rob Knight and Jeff Leach, is the world’s largest crowd-funded citizen science project in existence. As of early 2017, the project contributions from over 10,000 participants surpassed $2 million.
American Gut was conceived during the summer of 2012 when co-founder Jeff Leach was in Australia exploring the possibility of mapping the gut microbes of Aboriginal Australians and planning a microbiome project among hunter-gatherers in East Africa. Frustrated with no simple and cost-effective way for a members of the general public to know their own microbes – and the need for large data sets to compare African and possibly aboriginal microbes to those of people living in Westernized cultures – Jeff approached co-founder Rob Knight (then at the University of Colorado Boulder) about the possibility of using crowdfunding as a means to build large, public data sets. At the time, the idea seemed a little bit crazy but with a bit of hard work on the part of Rob and others in his lab, the American Gut Project went live Thanksgiving of 2012.
The American Gut Project enables participants to learn about their own body’s microbes while also contributing to the greater scientific effort to learn how the human microbiome is associated with various aspects of our health-from associations with diet to the amount of alcohol someone drinks to whether or not someone has autism or IBD. Because all de-identified data are made freely available, researchers from all over the world can access the data to ask questions about the microbiome and its association with a variety of health and lifestyle factors.
American Gut co-founder, Rob Knight, is the principal investigator at the Knight Lab and is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, with an additional appointment in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, at the University of California San Diego. A New Zealand native, Rob obtained his PhD from Princeton University analyzing the evolution of the genetic code. Rob is also a self-taught computer programmer, and he and students and post-docs in his laboratory are responsible for developing microbiome data analysis tools and pipelines, such as UniFrac, Qiime, and Qiita, which are used by microbiome researchers the world-over. Rob was chosen as one of 50 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientists in 2009, is a Senior Editor is the ISME Journal, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Earth Microbiome Project, and is the CSO and co-founder of Biota TechnologyTM, a microbial DNA sequencing company targeting the energy market. Rob will also lead a new research-focused Center for Microbiome Innovation (also known as CMI), which is part of the new UCSD campus-wide Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative, announced in October 2015.
Jeff Leach is the Founder of the not-for-profit Human Food Project and Co-Founder of the American Gut Project – the largest open-source, crowd funded microbiome project in the world. His research has been published in numerous journals including the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nature, Journal of Field Archaeology, Current Research in the Pleistocene, Journal of Archaeological Science, British Journal of Nutrition, and numerous others. His research has been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles and he has written opinion pieces about health and nutrition for the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle. His work among the Hadza was recently profiled in the prestigious journal Science and in several television programs and an upcoming PBS documentary.
What We Are Not
We are not a company, but strictly an IRB approved research project based at an academic institution. We do not provide a service, and our participants are not getting their microbiomes “tested”. We also do not provide advice on whether or how to change your lifestyle based on your American Gut “results”. Of course, our ultimate goal is to bring microbiome research to the point where it can be used in the clinic, but as several studies demonstrate, human microbiomes are incredibly dynamic, and many factors can affect our microbiomes. Sometimes the same factor can have opposite effects on two different people! The human microbiome is indeed a complex puzzle, but the more samples we get, the sooner we will be able to unravel the many ways the microbiome is associated with different health and disease states. We can’t do it without you, and we invite you to help us on this exciting research endeavor!
American Gut Abroad
Through its collaborator network, the American Gut Project has expanded into Europe through the British Gut Project, led by Dr. Tim Spector, into Australia through an effort spearheaded by Dr. Phil Hugenholtz, and most recently into Asia (Singapore) through an effort spearheaded by Scott Savage. These efforts have facilitated the collection of hundreds of samples from participants outside of North America, which will enable us to characterize geographical differences in the human microbiome-and determine whether associations observed in the US are also seen in other areas of the world.
As of 2018, the American Gut Project and all affiliated sites became a part of a larger collective known as “The Microsetta Initiative” (TMI). TMI aims to collect data on the microbiome across the globe in order to assist researchers in determining how to translate microbiome results between distinct populations.
If you are an individual or research group interested in working with us to start an “X Gut” project in another country, please send an inquiry to our project manager and scientific director, Edgar Diaz & Daniel McDonald.