New social network connects people based on gut bacteria
The MyMicrobes site helps with scientific research and allows participants to contact others with similar microbial profiles from around the world.
Wed, Sep 14 2011 at 2:29 AM
Many Internet dating sites claim to have their own unique algorithms for aiding you in finding people on the Web, but the truth is that choosing a mate or finding like-minded people among thousands of online profiles often comes down to little more than a gut feeling.
Now there's a new social network that has succumbed to that concept completely — in the most literal way. Called MyMicrobes, the site connects people based entirely upon similarities in their gut bacteria, reports Nature.
One of the site's co-founders, biochemist Peer Bork, says he got the idea for MyMicrobes after receiving nearly 100 emails from people concerned about their gastrointestinal problems.
"I got between 50 and 100 emails from regular people having problems with the stomach or diarrhea and wondering if we can help them," recalled Bork, who specializes in digestive chemistry. "They were long emails. There must be a lot of frustrated people out there."
Diarrhea and constipation may not sound like good criteria for matching people, but researchers think the social network will help those with similar digestive profiles share and gather information about their digestive health. In the process researchers also hope to gather a wealth of data about the bacteria living in peoples' guts.
However, joining the site costs more than the typical fare of a valid email and unique password. The price tag for a MyMicrobes profile is a hefty $2,100, which basically covers the cost of having your gut bacteria sequenced. That may sound expensive, but it's cheaper than the cost of a typical full gut bacteria sequence (about $2,700). MyMicrobes is a nonprofit program, so all the money goes toward the science.
After registering on the site, members are shipped a package of information and a stool-sample kit. They are then asked to ship the samples back to a lab in Paris, where the DNA is extracted and then sent back to Bork's lab in Germany.
So far, there are only 100 or so participants, probably because of the daunting cost of a profile. Researchers estimate that they'll need that number to climb to at least 5,000 before any meaningful study can be performed.
"It requires a critical number of participants. Just like competitors of Facebook, we might fail to get that critical mass," said Bork.
Until that day comes, though, MyMicrobes users are invited to interact with others in the network, share diet tips and gastrointestinal woes, and who knows ... maybe they'll even make that special connection.
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