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