Learning From Your Microbiome: uBiome at QS15
June 8, 2015
Next week we’re hosting our QS15 Conference and Expo and we’re delighted that so many great toolmakers will be joining us to show off their devices, apps, and services. We’ve asked each of our toolmakers to give us a bit more background information about their company and what they’re excited about. If you’d like to meet these innovative companies and the amazing people behind them then make sure to register today!
1. How do you describe uBiome?
uBiome is a microbiome sequencing service that lets you explore the populations of bacteria that live on and inside your body. Based in San Francisco, we were founded in 2012, went through Y Combinator and have funding from Andreessen Horowitz.
Here’s how it works: we send you a kit, and you send us back a sample from your mouth, nose, skin, genitals, or gut (just a swab of your toilet paper will do). We sequence it for you at our in-house lab, and you can then login to see visualizations and comparisons of your data.
We want everyone to be able to explore their own microbiome while advancing research on a massive scale at this new frontier of science.
2. What’s the backstory? How did you get started?
In 2012, the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project (HMP) finished, mapping out many of the bacteria who live intimately with us. uBiome launched an Indiegogo campaign that same year, to see if the public would be interested in being part of a project to use the HMP technology for large-scale microbiome studies. The campaign raised 3.5 times more than the $100,000 we asked for, and uBiome was born.
3. What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
We’ve sequenced tens of thousands of microbiomes now, and started to release preliminary findings. For example, we don’t see a difference between male and female gut microbiomes, but we do see a difference between gut and mouth microbiome samples.
A flood of individuals and researchers from around the world have approached us about starting studies, on everything from underarm bacteria to inflammatory bowel disease. We even have people testing their koalas and their stream water. The level of excitement about being part of this new field of research is incredible.
You can think of it like a genetic test, except for one major difference. With the microbiome, you can actually DO something to shift the levels of bacteria in your body. So as we learn more about patterns associated with different disease states, people may discover ways to hack their microbiomes to reduce suffering and optimize health.
4. What are you doing next? How do you see it evolving?
We have a strong social mission of enabling citizen science around the microbiome, so that people whose lives could be most affected by new research breakthroughs actually have a chance to be part of the process up front and help set the agenda.
uBiome wants to enable anyone to start a study, share what they’ve learned, and collaboratively add to the world’s knowledge about this emerging and powerful field. In a talk our CEO Jessica Richman gave at TEDMED a couple of years ago, she asked the question, “Could a citizen scientist win the Nobel Prize?” It’s really about leveling the playing field to help science go faster.