Over the past decade, researchers have gained a better understanding of the importance of the human microbiome. We now know that the trillions of bacteria that live in and around our bodies contribute to health or disease, and even change how our brain functions. The human biome is far more personalized than the human genome, and changes on a daily basis.
A group of California-based biologists, headed by Holly Ganz, Ph.D., recently launched the Kittybiome, a citizen science project that could help them better understand the bacteria living in and around our feline friends. According to the project’s Kickstarter page, the researchers hope to use the microbiome data to find out:
- How do grumpy cats compare to happy cats?
- How do athletic cats compare to couch potato cats?
- Does it matter if you feed your cat a paleo-mouse diet?
- How do indoor and outdoor cats compare?
- What happens when your cat goes on antibiotics?
- How does the microbiome change during your cat’s nine lives?
The group will analyze feline stool samples by using the same sequencing protocols used by the Earth Microbiome Project.
The Kittybiome Kickstarter campaign offers several levels of perks starting at $25. For $99, your cat can participate in the project. You will be sent a kit with detailed instructions for collecting a sample from your cat that you will send back for analysis. You will receive access to an interactive website once your cat’s results are ready.
Dr. Ganz was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about this fascinating project.
How will this project improve cats’ lives?
By characterizing the composition of bacteria in the feline gut, we aim to describe how this community varies between healthy cats and cats with digestive issues and other health disorders.
We are also examining how cats on different diets might differ in terms of the bacterial composition because diet is a relatively easy thing to manipulate.
How has the veterinary community reacted to this project?
We have two veterinarians involved with the project, Stan Marks at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Adrian Tordiffe at the University of Pretoria, School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition we have sought guidance from several veterinarians who work in shelter animal medicine. All are very supportive of the project.
In terms of the broader veterinary community, some of our participants have taken their results to their veterinarians and found that they didn’t know how to interpret them. This is to be expected because, at this point, this is basic research without a clear clinical application. I encountered a similar response when I showed my results from 23andme (editor’s note: 23andme is a service that offers DNA analysis directly to consumers) to my doctor.
Here’s a more feline-centric (and totally adorable) explanation of the project:
To learn more about Kittybiome, and to participate in the project, visit http://www.kittybiome.com.