A huge database listing one million microbiota in the world has been launched: the “Million Microbiome of Humans Project” (MMHP). As a member country, France has planned to collect 100,000, including 3,000 by the end of 2022. What if yours was on the list? Discover the steps to follow and the hopes of this ambitious project.
MICROBIOTA. Billions of bacterial cells line our body and especially our intestines, in greater numbers than our own cells. This microbiota plays an important role in immune, neurological or digestive functions, so much so that its dysfunctions are implicated in many pathologies, from diabetes to Crohn’s disease, including cancer.
The study of the microbiota at the service of medicine and patients
“Cohort studies are to medicine what particle accelerators are to high-energy physics. With French Gut we will have an extremely powerful tool“, anticipates Thomas Lombès, Deputy Director General Strategy of Inserm, in a press conference. French Gut is a project led by Inrae (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and environment) with the AP-HP (Hôpitaux de Paris) and in collaboration and with the support of a consortium of members from the medical, scientific and industrial communities.The science of the microbiota is really essential to open up new preventive and therapeutic avenues“, announces expert microbiota researcher Joël Doré. “For the moment, we only have 3,000 samples characterized in 2021, and collected only from patients. We still have a lot to learn by characterizing the microbiota of healthy individuals.”
This is where participatory science comes in. The French Gut project is entering its first phase, with the ambition of collecting 3,000 samples of intestinal microbiota (specifically, stools) from French adult volunteers, regardless of their profile and state of health. The only contraindications: being a minor, having taken a course of antibiotics or undergoing a colonoscopy in the three months preceding the donation, having a digestive stoma or being under curatorship. Until the end of 2022, participation is also restricted to only metropolitan French people.
How to register and then sample your microbiota with the kit
Concretely, here is the procedure to follow to include your microbiota among the lucky ones listed in the French Gut project:
- Go to the frenchgut.fr website and click on “Take part in the project”
- Create an account, then log in (be careful, check your spam to find the confirmation email!)
- Read the information note to give your consent
- Take a 10-20 minute questionnaire about your lifestyle and eating habits
A few days later, you will receive a collection kit at your home, including a user guide. Then simply stick a biodegradable paper on the seat which will collect your stools by letting the urine pass. Then put on the glove and take a sample of the stool using the tool provided for this purpose, before putting it in the tube provided. Then slip the tube into a prepaid T-envelope and post it there quickly!
Donors followed for life
Your sample will then be anonymized and analyzed to find out its composition. Each participant will likely be asked again over the years to update this data. “We will follow all 100,000 people until they die, matching their data to the national health data system“, explains Professor Robert Benamouzig, head of the gastroenterology department at Avicenne Hospital (AP-HP). “Today, when you build a cohort, you know that you will lose two-thirds of it. There, we will not lose anyone, and this is a strength of this project and of the French healthcare system..” As a participant, you will regularly receive a newsletter informing you of the progress of the project.
Collect the microbiota of 100,000 French people
100,000 is indeed the number of samples that French Gut ultimately aims to collect. “Why 100,000? Researchers have calculated that it takes the microbiota of at least 40 to 50,000 people to get an idea of the existing diversity“, explains Joël Doré. “The objective of 100,000 certainly makes it possible to reach a kind of saturation of knowledge which will constitute a basis for comparing any new sample..” This “deluge of samples“will require multiplying the current analysis capacity by 10, points out Alexandre Cavezza, executive director of the MetaGenoPolis unit at Inrae which is carrying out this project.This requires new technologies and machines to analyze bacterial DNA, but also artificial intelligence tools that will have to be developed to make sense of this data.
In addition to France, four other countries are currently involved in the Million Microbiome of Humans Project: China, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. But many other countries are candidates, including in Europe, specifies Joël Doré. Ultimately, the researchers hope that this huge global database will one day make it possible to understand how to modify the microbiota for preventive or therapeutic purposes for truly personalized medicine. The first results should come out at the end of 2024.