Our life-spans are ever-increasing, but our health-spans are not, leading to long periods of unpleasant and expensive suffering with chronic conditions. Many of these conditions have recently been linked to the microbiome. We are constantly shaping our microbiomes through the foods we eat, the environments we experience, even the people we live and work with.
Through the American Gut Project, the largest crowdsourced and crowdfunded citizen-science project yet conducted, we now know about the microbiomes of many types of people, from the healthiest to the sickest. Potentially real-time analysis of our microbiomes could guide our daily decisions in a way that optimizes our microbiomes for extending our health-span. Although the potential benefits of such research are clear, what are the risks (e.g., privacy concerns) that need to be identified and addressed?
Rob Knight is Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering and Computer Science & Engineering and is Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego. He authored “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes” and co-authored “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System.” His work combines microbiology, DNA sequencing, ecology and computer science to understand the vast numbers of microbes that inhabit our bodies and our planet. He was recently honored with the 2017 Massry Prize for his microbiome research.