A huge database of one million microbiota in the world has been launched: the Million Human Microbiome Project (MMHP). As a member country, France plans to raise 100,000, including 3,000 by the end of 2022. What if your country was on the list? Learn about the steps to be taken and the hopes of this ambitious project.
MICROBIOTA. Billions of bacterial cells line our bodies 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 associated with many pathologies, from diabetes to Crohn’s disease, including cancer.
Studying the microbiota in the service of medicine and patients
“Cohort research is to medicine what particle accelerators are to high energy physics. With French Gut, we will have an extremely powerful tool,” predicts Thomas Lombes, Associate General Manager for Strategy at Inserm, at a press conference. French Gut is a project led by Inrae (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment) with AP-HP (Hospitals of Paris) and with the cooperation and support of a consortium of medical, scientific and industrial participants. “Microbiota science is really needed to unlock new preventive and therapeutic possibilities,” says expert microbiota researcher Joel Doré. “At the moment, we only have 3,000 samples characterized in 2021 and collected from patients only. We still have a lot to learn by characterizing the microbiota of healthy people.”
This is where participatory science comes to the rescue. The French Gut project is entering its first phase with the goal of collecting 3,000 intestinal microbiota samples (particularly stools) from adult French volunteers, regardless of their profile and health status. The only contraindications are: underage, undergoing a course of antibiotics or a colonoscopy three months before donation, having a digestive stoma or being supervised. Until the end of 2022, participation is also limited to residents of the French metropolitan area.
How to register and then take a microbiota sample 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 frenchgut.fr and click “Join the project”.
- Create an account, then log in (be careful, check spam for confirmation email!)
- Read the information note to give your consent
- Complete a 10-20 minute questionnaire about your lifestyle and eating habits.
In a few days you will receive a home collection kit including a user manual. Then simply stick biodegradable paper on the seat, which will collect your stool while letting urine through. Then put on a glove and take a stool sample with a device designed for this purpose before placing it in the tube provided. Then insert the tube into the prepaid T-bag and send it there quickly!
Donors are accompanied for life
Your sample will then be anonymized and analyzed to determine its composition. Probably in a few years, each participant will be asked to update this data again. “We will follow all 100,000 people until they die, correlating their data with the national health data system,” explains Professor Robert Benamouzig, head of the department of gastroenterology at the Avicenna Hospital (AP-HP). “Today, when we create a cohort, we know that we will lose two-thirds of it. We will not lose anyone there, and this is the strength of this project and the French healthcare system.” As a participant, you will receive a regular newsletter keeping you updated on the progress of the project.
Collect the microbiota of 100,000 French
100,000 is really the number of samples that French Gut ultimately aims to collect. “Why 100,000? The researchers calculated that a microbiota of at least 40-50,000 people is needed to get an idea of the diversity that exists,” explains Joel Doré. “The 100,000 target certainly provides a kind of knowledge saturation that will form the basis for comparison of any new sample.” This “sample flow” would require multiplying current analytical power by 10, said Alexander Kavesza, executive director of Inrae’s MetaGenoPolis division that is running the project. “This requires new technologies and machines to analyze bacterial DNA, as well as artificial intelligence tools that will need to be developed to make sense of this data.”
In addition to France, four other countries are currently participating in the Million Human Microbiome Project: China, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. But many other countries are candidates, including in Europe, says Joel Doré. Ultimately, the researchers hope that this huge global database will one day provide insight into how to modify the microbiota for preventive or therapeutic purposes for truly personalized medicine. The first results should appear at the end of 2024.