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12.18.12

The American Gut Project examines bacteria in stomach and seeks human and pet volunteers

Ever wondered who's living in your gut, and what they're doing? Our trillions of microorganisms outnumber our own cells by as many as 10 to one in and on our own bodies, and do important jobs ranging from chewing up the food we eat to building up the immune system.

Researchers at leading institutes around the world including the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) are collaborating on a new project where everyone is encouraged to participate and find out what type of microbiome, or bacteria, are in their gut. The American Gut project, led by the Human Food Project, builds on the work of previous studies, including the five-year, $173-million National Institutes of Health-funded Human Microbiome Project, and provides a way for the general public, their kids, and pets to participate.

"This is an important study that revolves around everyone participating," said Jan Suchodolski, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the CVM. "Unlike previous projects, anyone can participate, allowing us to examine the microbiome from a wide variety of people and develop an understanding of how diet and lifestyle affect microbes."

The gut microbiome has been linked to many diseases, including obesity, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease: interestingly, all these diseases are much more common in Western populations. "We should start thinking about diets not only from the perspective of what we should eat, but what we should be feeding our entire supraorganism," said Jeff Leach, founder of the Human Food Project and co-founder of American Gut.

"This project truly brings together a dream team of microbiome investigators," said Rob Knight, an associate professor with the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a co-founder of American Gut. "And building a framework where we can join together to understand the microbiome is critical."

The project builds on the success team members have had previously in other areas such as examining the microbiome of pets.  Previous studies, for example, described the gut microbiomes of dogs and cats of different ages and sizes.  The researchers of these previous studies found that every animal has a unique microbial ecosystem that is partially influenced by diet and environment.  To help with the examination of companion animals' microbiomes contributors to the American Gut project are urged to bring their pets with them to participate.

"By being able to collect this massive dataset in healthy pet animals, it will allow us to identify differences in gut microbiota between healthy and diseased dogs and cats, which, ultimately, will lead to better treatment modalities for our furry companions," Suchodolski said.

Since companion animals are living in close quarters with humans as family members, Suchodolski said there is potential to transfer parts of the microbiome between humans and pets.

"The American Gut project provides an excellent platform to study the microbiomes of humans as well as animals, because it is a multi-center collaborative study including the leading experts in the microbiome field. The results of this study will be made openly available which will drastically advance the research in this field," Suchodolski said.

Participants in the project include many of the key players in the Human Microbiome Project including Dirk Gevers, group leader of microbial systems and communities at the Broad Bnstitute of Harvard and MIT, Joseph Petrosino, director of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine, and Curtis Huttenhower, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health; key players in the Earth Microbiome Project including Janet Jansson, professor and senior staff scientist at the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Jack Gilbert, assistant professor at the University of Chicago and staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and J. Gregory Caporaso, assistant professor at Northern Arizona University and Argonne National Laboratory; and other experts on the human genome, microbiome, microbiome in human disease  susceptibility  and evolution including Ruth Ley, assistant professor at Cornell University, George Church, founder of the Personal Genome Project and Professor at Harvard Medical School, Rob Dunn an associate professor at North Carolina State University and Founder of Yourwildlife.org, Jeroen Raes, professor at the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), Brussels, Jonathan Eisen, professor at the University of California, Davis, Susan Holmes, professor at Stanford University, Ramnik Xavier, chief of gastroenterology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, director for the study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and senior associate member of the Broad Institute, Kelly Swanson, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Jan Suchodolski, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Unlike traditional projects, funded by grant applications to the government or private foundations, American Gut will be funded by donations from the public. Please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/americangut to learn more about the project and participation.


Contact Information

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718



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