Thursday, October 08, 2015

the business model consists in fleecing credulous geeks with more money than sense...,

discovermagazine |  Full disclosure, I didn’t pay $89 for my sample analysis kit. But if I had, I would have been disappointed. And if I had paid $399 for the five-site kit, I would have been even more so. The amount of readily available information provided little enlightenment about what my internal lurkers meant about me.

To be fair, this is not totally uBiome’s fault, and it’s something they disclose explicitly in the terms of service. We don’t know enough about the microbiome to say, “Too many of X and too little of Y mean Z,” or, “Firmicutes make you fat.” I knew that, and uBiome made very clear that no human should use their service to diagnose themselves or predict their future, and that knowledge of the microbiome is nascent and evolving. But I did expect the comparison tools to have more flexibility.

I could check out how my bacteria’s phyla stood up to those of vegans, paleos, vegetarians, heavy drinkers, weight losers, weight gainers, those on antibiotics, men, and women. But not women on antibiotics. Or vegetarian women who are in their 30s. And I couldn’t compare a level beneath phylum.

My microbiome doesn’t look like vegans’, paleos’, vegetarians’, lushes’, or any of the other groups’, which makes sense given that I’m an individual and don’t strictly fit within those categories. 

However, it also means that my data didn’t provide me much insight. I could download my own raw data and manipulate it, but then I was looking at it in a vacuum, without a set to compare to, so the analysis amounts mostly to, “Hey, look. I have this many of those bacteria. Neat?”

Beyond that, I could see a list of all my bacteria and what percentage of the population they were; which were “most enriched” compared to the aggregate; and which were “most depleted” compared to the aggregate. For some, I could click on their name — digging down from phylum to genus — and learn more about their lives and the effect they might have on mine.

However, many — more than half, if you go all the way to genus — don’t have entries. That’s because science hasn’t figured them out yet. And science will almost certainly figure them out in the future… By which time, however, my microbiome will probably have changed.

Bio Business Model
uBiome bills itself primarily as a citizen science project—your guts in your hands!