The power of your gut- a hot topic in health!

The gut microbiome is emerging as a “hot topic” in health care right now, and scientists are amazed at the connections being made between our gut bacteria and our health and wellbeing. The bacteria and other organisms that reside in our gut have been implicated in a number of diseases ranging from colorectal cancer and ulcerative colitis, through to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

An innovative company is empowering Australians to understand the power of their gut and how it influences their body and mind.

Microba, founded in 2018 by two professors from the University of Queensland, is using modern scientific tools to help people learn more about their guts. At the same time, Microba is furthering our understanding of how the gut is contributing to various diseases.

The reason that the gut microbiome is connected to so many different health conditions is that the collection of organisms in our gut are a metabolic powerhouse, able to produce and breakdown a vast array of different compounds that have various effects on the body – some beneficial, and others detrimental. It is estimated that the gut microbiome harbours between 2 million and 20 million different genes and each of those genes is a blueprint for making something in your gut.

When you consider that the human genome contains an estimated 20,000 –30,000 genes, it’s easy to see that the gut microbiome has a far greater potential to be producing many more compounds than our bodies can. It’s for this reason that some people in the medical community are referring to the gut microbiome as the “forgotten organ” of the body. For example, some organisms can produce beneficial compounds like short-chain fatty acids, which are used as energy for your intestinal cells to stay healthy and resist disease. Other organisms produce detrimental compounds like trimethylamine and lipopolysaccharide which have been linked to heart disease, inflammation and type-2 diabetes. The exact influence that your microbiome has on your body depends on the unique composition of your gut.

This is where Microba comes in. Microba can send you a sampling swab that you use in the comfort and privacy of your own home to collect a small amount of material from the surface of your used toilet tissue. You return the sample back to Microba’s lab, where they use DNA-based metagenomics technology to identify the relative proportions of every organism in the sample, as well as their metabolic capacity – an indication of how well your gut can produce and degrade the various compounds that have been shown to influence our health. This new technology has only been commercially available for 1-2 years – other tests that have been available previously are using different methods such as cell culture and PCR, but they only identify a subset of the organisms and don’t report on the metabolic functions of your gut.  Only the technology used by Microba can give you this detailed level of information.

Microba uses this data to generate your Insight™ report. This report is provided as an interactive online experience, and each element can be clicked on to reveal what the latest science is saying about that aspect of your gut. The report provides you with both a high-level overview of your gut microbiome, as well the option to dig deeper, and walks you through all of the different species identified in your gut and what they are doing. It also provides you with food ideas tailored to your gut microbiome, based on the prebiotic fibres that will feed the potentially beneficial microbes that are below optimal levels. To help you understand the report, Microba provides a free 15-minute phone call with a Microbiome Coach to talk through your results and answer any questions you may have. To support you further, Microba is working with a network of health care practitioners who have undergone training to further understand these test results. This means that you can seek out additional support from gastroenterologists, GPs, dietitians and other health professionals in your local area.

Many Australians are doing just that. In less than a year, Microba has issued over 5,000 kits to people who want to learn more about their gut. Some have had astounding success with their results and in conjunction with support from health care professionals, have used the information in the report to see complete remission of their gut symptoms. Others are discovering that their gut microbiome isn’t the source of their concerns and are then able to focus on other areas of the body to manage their health. Microba acknowledges that the information currently provided in the Insight™ report is best used to guide thinking and support the decisions being made about your overall health, rather than being a diagnostic.

A key goal of Microba is to bring science to life with an easy-to-use test, and provide access to anyone who wants to explore their gut microbiome from the privacy of their own homes.

In offering this test, Microba is aiming to further their understanding of the gut and how it impacts health. Users of the test can opt in to the Future Insights program which allows researchers at Microba to look for patterns in the gut and their overall health. The goal of this program is to reveal connections in the population between the gut microbiome and health states and attempt to isolate the mechanisms of some of these health challenges. In doing so, Microba hopes to turn these discoveries into treatments and use their knowledge of the gut to improve the health care options for millions of Australians who have gut issues.

By Dr Ken McGrath, Technology Liaison Manager at Microba

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