Nope, this isn’t your average tech startup. No mobile apps here, or integrations with Facebook.
Instead, this is a project that sits at the intersection of crowdsourcing and health.
uBiome is a project that’s pioneering the area of “citizen science,” or research that relies on data contributed by regular people. In this case, Ubiome is looking at the human microbiome, or the very complex ecosystem of bacteria that resides within us.
The amount of bacteria in the microbiome outnumbers human cells by 10-to-1 and it can keep us healthy by helping with digestion or synthesizing vitamins. Instead of looking at these trillions of microbes antagonistically, researchers want to understand how they affect our immune systems or digestive processes among other issues. They also want to understand how our behavior, like our diet or use of antibiotics, can affect the make-up of the microbiome.
While the microbiome has been studied before, crowdsourcing a broader range of samples from the public could lead to other discoveries. Historically, researchers have analyzed individual species of bacteria in isolation, instead looking at how they function in a complex ecosystem. Some species can’t even really be reproduced in a lab, given that they rely on byproducts of other species in the human microbiome. Researchers are looking for how microbiome composition correlates with diseases like cancer and diabetes.
“Involving the public directly in science has been a big passion of mine,” said co-founder Jessica Richman in an interview. “Using Indiegogo rather than going down a grant process to fund this was intentional.”
With a Ubiome kit, you can provide samples — which are from your nose, ears, eyes, mouth and other — private parts. Yes, you contribute a stool sample. (But it gets degraded in a tube into a clear liquid.)
With that data and at least a $79 donation, Ubiome promises a report on your personal flora and fauna. That report will tell you what species of bacteria reside in your microbiome, how it compares to others in the study, and the latest personally relevant research on the microbiome.
If you’re in the very highest tier of donors at $10,000 a pop, you’ll get a personally designed experiment.
“We came to a solution that we’re comfortable with, and that’s for people to own their own data,” she said.