Can a gut DNA test fix your health?

COULD A NEW BAC­TE­RIAL DNA TEST HOLD THE KEY TO YOUR HEALTH?

Sunday Tasmanian - - Body+soul -

Se­quenc­ing your genome is so 2017. With per­son­alised health be­com­ing a boom­ing in­dus­try, sev­eral busi­nesses are now of­fer­ing to se­quence the DNA of the mi­crobes in your gut.

Emerg­ing re­search sug­gests that cul­ti­vat­ing a healthy bal­ance of th­ese or­gan­isms, col­lec­tively known as the gut mi­cro­biome, can pro­tect against some of the big­gest health threats, in­clud­ing obe­sity, di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease, arthri­tis and de­pres­sion.

We might be able to con­trol th­ese or­gan­isms with drugs, but some firms think food is a bet­ter op­tion. Th­ese com­pa­nies say they can pro­vide tai­lored di­etary ad­vice to im­prove your mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut mi­crobes to op­ti­mise your health.

How­ever, re­searchers sus­pect the sci­ence is not yet ro­bust enough. “It’s a big leap from iden­ti­fy­ing which mi­crobes are there to know­ing how to ma­nip­u­late them to im­prove health,” says Amy Lough­man, from Deakin Univer­sity in Vic­to­ria.

The first com­pany to of­fer gut mi­cro­biome se­quenc­ing direct to con­sumers was US firm uBiome. Firms like Thryve, in the US, and At­las Biomed, in the UK, soon be­gan of­fer­ing sim­i­lar ser­vices.

Th­ese early tests used a tech­nique called 16S ri­bo­so­mal RNA anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine the types of bac­te­ria in cus­tomers’ stools and hence in their gut. They could only iden­tify broad cat­e­gories of mi­crobes, how­ever, be­cause the tech­nol­ogy se­quences just a small part of the bac­te­rial genome.

More re­cently, a method called shot­gun metage­nomics has made it pos­si­ble to se­quence the full genomes of many mi­crobes in a stool, to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual species. It also de­tects other mi­crobes that may in­flu­ence gut health, such as fungi, ar­chaea and viruses.

In 2016, Is­raeli com­pany DayTwo launched the first con­sumer ver­sion of this new test, based on re­search by the Weiz­mann In­sti­tute of Sci­ence. uBiome be­gan of­fer­ing a sim­i­lar test in Jan­uary. This was closely fol­lowed in July by Aus­tralian com­pany Mi­croba, founded by bi­ol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of Queens­land.

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