About This Project
As students carry out their busy lifestyles, many are turning to inexpensive and convenient drink based meal-alternatives, such as Soylent, to supplement or replace their regular diets. These meal alternatives are designed to fulfill the nutritional needs of a human, but the impact on the microbiome remain unknown. This project aims to track the composition of participant's microbiome before, during, and after Soylent use to more holistically understand Soylent's impact on microbiome health.
Ask the ScientistsJoin The Discussion
What is the context of this research?
As students carry out their busy lifestyles, many are turning to inexpensive and convenient drink based meal-alternatives, such as Soylent, to supplement or replace their regular diets. While these meal alternatives fulfill the daily nutritional needs of a human, its effect on the microbiome remains unknown.
The microbiome has recently gained high research interest worldwide, in part through the NIH Human Microbiome Project. It has been shown to affect many aspects of human health, from intestinal diseases, to obesity, and even psychological health. With recent breakthroughs in DNA sequencing technology, previously impossible measurements of microbial communities are now possible. We will sequence our microbiomes with next-generation sequencing through uBiome, a leading sequencing company.
What is the significance of this project?
The Human Microbiome is a complex and dynamic network of host factors and inter-bacterial interactions that contribute to the overall composition of the microbiome. Current microbiome research has mainly focused on disease, and while research on diseases such as C. difficile infection and Irritable Bowel Disease are certainly highly impactful, the microbiome has much further reaching implications than just to patients. Consumers will be able to make better informed dietary decisions as a result of understanding the effect of Soylent use on their microbiome. The accessibility of the uBiome kits provides a new opportunity for student run health studies, and this project will raise awareness and inspire interest in students to the importance of the microbiome.
What are the goals of the project?
This project has three main goals:
First, to observe and characterize trends in the effects of Soylent use on the microbiome. Second, to provide a rich, hands on microbiome research experience to a group of undergraduates. Third, to establish a student organization to regularly discuss microbiome related topics and document the course of the study online.
Participants will log their diets and bowel movements electronically, and sample their microbiome on each indicated day.
Day 1 - 2: Participants eat regularly.
Day 3 - 5: Split into two groups. 7 participants will switch to a Soylent diet. 3 participants will retain a regular diet.
Day 6: All participants return to regular diets.
Day 10: Last sample to observe long term recovery.
Thanks to a generous partnership with uBiome, the budget will now fund ~15 participants.
Each participant's microbiome will be sampled 7 times, for a total of 105 uBiome sampling kits.
Recruitment funds will be used to raise awareness and advertise the project to attract candidates for participation. Candidates will learn as part of our student organization in regular meetings about the study and microbiome research overall.
Funds raised past our goal will be used to increase the sample size and fund more participants.
Meet the Team
We are a group of motivated undergraduate researchers at UC Berkeley. Together, we are forming a student organization that will educate students on current microbiome advances and conduct this student-run study. We aim to both contribute to the field of microbiome research and inspire our study's participants.
I'm a Microbiology and Computer Science student at UC Berkeley. I have also spent over a year conducting research on synthetic human microbiomes as part of the Arkin Lab at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I'm excited to see what we can learn about the microbiome together! Thanks for your support!
I am a Molecular and Cell Biology student at UC Berkeley. I have previously worked in UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and I am currently researching microbial genetics in the Arkin Lab at UC Berkeley. I can't wait to help discover more about the human gut microbiome!
I am an Integrative Biology and English student at UC Berkeley. I have spent over a year working in UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. I plan on attending medical school in two years, so I am excited to learn more about the human microbiome!
Mitchell Seitz jr.
I'm an Integrative Biology student at UC Berkeley. I have spent over two years working in the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and I plan on attending medical school in the future. I look forward to learning about the human gut microbiome! Thank you for your support!
Any additional funds raised past our goal will be used to increase the sample size and increase the number of microbiome measurements we will take.
Q: Is 3 days of Soylent long enough to observe a change? Is a sample size of 10 large enough for this study?
A: In our revised study design, participants consume Soylent for 4 days. The protocol we propose is designed similarly to the study here. In this paper, a similar sample size of about 10 participants were given meat-rich or vegetable rich diets for five days, and microbiome compositions were rapidly and reproducibly changed within 2 days. Any funding we raise past our goal will be used to increase our sample size. Citation: David L a, et al. (2014) Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature 505(7484):559–63.
Q: How can you control for Soylent/No Soylent conditions if everybody's microbiome starts off differently?
A: Everybody's microbiome does start off differently. As such, it is impossible to do a real soylent + / - control without somehow duplicating the person and their microbiome. However, out method has two controlled aspects. Firstly, the two days prior to Soylent consumption will provide a baseline microbiome of each participant's unique microbiome, acting as an internal control. The individuals that do not consume Soylent will act as a control for day-to-day variance of microbiome fluctuations.
Q: What about human testing approval?
--Update 10/2016-- We passed our IRB review!
We have an IRB (human experimentation ethics review) underway and will also require Informed Consent approval from each participant before we begin testing. The study is considered minimally invasive since Soylent is regulated as food by the FDA and the uBiome sequencing is done from an external sample.
Interesting Scientific Points
Introduction of Bacteria to Microbiomes: How did so many bacteria get inside of you? From the moment you were born, your body has been collecting bacteria from the environment, which populate both your outside and inside. The main source of bacterial diversity comes from your food. Your body replenishes bacterial diversity from the varieties of food that you eat. Interestingly, Soylent is sterile, which means there are no living bacteria in the drink. This may have interesting effects on the replenishment of bacteria for Soylent drinkers.
Sugars/Carbohydrates: Each species of bacteria has a unique metabolism that determines how well it can utilize the nutrition it is fed. Sugars, or carbohydrates, are the main source of energy for bacteria, and most people have diets that include a wide range of sugars. Soylent is designed with one main sugar, isomaltulose, which may preferentially select for certain bacteria, while negatively affecting other bacteria.
Special thanks to Richard Farman for his great work on the promotional video.
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