FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Microbiome expert Rob Knight, from the University of California in San Diego, says the tests have tremendous potential, but adds: “I don’t think we know enough yet to be able to make personalised dietary recommendations with great confidence.”
Some customers have questioned the reliability of the tests after getting contrasting results from different services. For example, Tami Lieberman of Harvard University blogged about getting different results from uBiome and similar firm American Gut after sending them separate portions of the same stool.
These discrepancies most likely come down to the different methods firms use to prepare samples, extract and sequence DNA, and interpret the data, says Knight.
With increasing interest in microbiome health, there’s a risk that some companies will make overinflated promises, says Loughman. We’ve already seen some genome-sequencing firms make questionable claims about being able to pick the perfect workout based on a customer’s DNA. “It’s ripe for the same kind of thing because there’s so much money and public interest in gut health.”
For the time being, Knight says that microbiome sequencing should be viewed as a fun science project rather than a reliable way to enhance health. “If you’re interested in the process and finding out more about who you are and what’s inside you, then go for it, but it’s not a way to overcome health problems yet,” he says.
Nevertheless, both Knight and Loughman are optimistic that gut microbiome sequencing will help people improve their health in the future. “I think this is the start of something that could be extremely powerful,” says Loughman.