Skip to main content

American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiom


McDonald, Daniel ; Hyde, Embrietta R; Debelius, Justine; Morton, James; Gonzalez, Antonio; Ackermann, Gail; Askenov, Alexander; Behsaz, Bahar; Chen, Yingfeng; Gilbert, Jack


Although much work has linked the human microbiome to specific phenotypes and lifestyle variables, data from different projects have been challeng- ing to integrate and the extent of microbial and molecular diversity in human stool remains unknown. Using standardized protocols from the Earth Microbiome Project and sample contributions from over 10,000 citizen-scientists, together with an open research network, we compare human microbiome specimens primarily from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia to one another and to environmental samples. Our results show an unexpected range of beta-diversity in human stool mi- crobiomes compared to environmental samples; demonstrate the utility of proce- dures for removing the effects of overgrowth during room-temperature shipping for revealing phenotype correlations; uncover new molecules and kinds of molecular communities in the human stool metabolome; and examine emergent associations among the microbiome, metabolome, and the diversity of plants that are consumed (rather than relying on reductive categorical variables such as veganism, which have little or no explanatory power). We also demonstrate the utility of the living data re- source and cross-cohort comparison to confirm existing associations between the microbiome and psychiatric illness and to reveal the extent of microbiome change within one individual during surgery, providing a paradigm for open microbiome re- search and education. IMPORTANCE We show that a citizen science, self-selected cohort shipping samples through the mail at room temperature recaptures many known microbiome results from clinically collected cohorts and reveals new ones. Of particular interest is inte- grating n 1 study data with the population data, showing that the extent of mi- crobiome change after events such as surgery can exceed differences between dis- tinct environmental biomes, and the effect of diverse plants in the diet, which we confirm with untargeted metabolomics on hundreds of samples.



Publication Year


Publication Type