The Microsetta Initiative, a research project led by a team at the University of California, San Diego, in partnership with Danone Nutricia Research — the research and innovation division of Danone North America's global parent company, Danone S.A. — is recruiting hundreds of U.S. citizen scientists to map their gut microbiome. Participants in the program will have the opportunity to get their microbiome sequenced, at no personal charge, and will receive a free report. This is the first phase of an unprecedented program to map the gut microbiome of people around the world, according to the research project’s partners.

The gut microbiome — the trillions of bacteria living in the gut — is considered the next frontier in health and wellbeing. This research program, known as "The Human Diets & Microbiome Initiative" (THDMI), aims to discover the best diets and foods on the planet that can nourish the “gutties of the world” using the latest sequencing technology such as shotgun metagenomic sequencing.

This technique enables THDMI scientists to comprehensively sample the genes of all organisms present in the gut microbiome, evaluate bacterial diversity and detect the abundance of microbes in the gut, the research project’s partners said. Shotgun metagenomics will also provide means to study unculturable microorganisms that are otherwise difficult or impossible to analyze.

"Today, the gut is increasingly recognized as a cornerstone of health,” said Miguel Freitas, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs for Danone North America. “Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles are impacting our gut and eroding the foundation of our wellness. Our diets are too often lacking in foods that feed our gut microbiomes such as fruits, vegetables and fermented foods that provide key nutrients and substances like fibers, probiotics and prebiotics.

"As a leader in fermented foods and probiotics, our global parent company and the team at Danone Nutricia Research are deeply committed to gaining an even deeper understanding of gut health,” he added. “This research has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people, and is consistent with our global ambition to bring health through food to as many people as possible."

With the help of an animated character called “Gutty,” representing the gut microbiome, the initiative will recruit hundreds of citizen scientists across the United States. After the United States, the study will be extended to other countries to create a global map of the gut microbiome across diverse ethnicities and diets.

"With the support of citizen scientists and the structure of the Microsetta Initiative, THDMI is employing cutting-edge metagenomic techniques and using the latest shotgun sequencing technology to map the gut microbiome, providing a deeper level of analysis than is typically performed for this type of project,” said Prof. Rob Knight, faculty director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at University of California, San Diego, and the leader of the Microsetta Initiative. “In addition, THDMI will enable us to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the diets and gut health of thousands of people around the world. This project is unlike anything of its kind in terms of the breadth of our research, especially when integrated with the Earth Microbiome Project, which will add an environment angle to this project — it's very exciting!"

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