From poop to personalized nutritional insights, here’s how we analyze your microbiome

December 11, 2020

There is a world of information in your poop.

Even taking a quick look at the state of your poop can give you essential information about your health. 

Collecting a poop sample and mailing it back to us is an important part of the at-home ZOE test kit. But what do we do with it, and what information can it tell you?

Here’s the scoop on your poop.

  • We use your poop sample to find out which bugs are living in your gut (microbiome)
  • We use the latest sequencing technology to identify the individual strains of bacteria in your microbiome
  • The makeup of your unique microbiome contributes to your ZOE Microbiome Health Score™, underpinning personalized nutrition advice to help your good gut bugs thrive

What’s in your microbiome and why does it matter?

Your poop isn’t just the remains of your food. As much as half of the material in your poop is the billions of microbes that have taken the express train out of your gut and into the toilet.

Analyzing the microbes in your poop gives us a good picture of which microbes are living in your gut (collectively known as the gut microbiome) and how they may be contributing to your overall health.

Although scientists have only begun unraveling the secrets of the microbiome over the past few years, we already know that the inhabitants of your gut can have a considerable impact on your health 

A healthy gut microbiome may protect you against many health conditions, including metabolic diseases, digestive disorders, and even mental health problems. Your gut microbiome also affects how your body breaks down and responds to different foods

The good news is that even if your microbiome isn’t at its best right now, it is not permanent: you can build a better microbiome by changing the way you eat

But first, you need to know what’s going on in your gut right now. And that’s where our cutting-edge microbiome analysis comes in.

How we analyze your microbiome

Once you have collected your poop sample as part of the ZOE at-home test, you put it in a special container with a solution that helps protect it and stop new microbes from growing. Then you send it back to us, and we pass it on to our laboratory. 

Next, a team of scientists in the lab extracts the microbial DNA in your sample from everything else in your poop. Finally, they read the DNA using a technique called shotgun metagenomics, which reveals exactly which bugs are living in your gut and how abundant each type is.

Shotgun metagenomics is a cutting edge DNA reading (sequencing) technology that allows us to analyze your entire microbiome in high resolution, picking out individual bacterial species and strains. 

Here’s how it works.

All the microbial DNA from your poop sample is cut into short fragments. Then we use a high-tech machine that reads the genetic code of a selection of these fragments, giving a snapshot of all the microbial DNA that’s in there.

Once we have the DNA sequences, we move from the laboratory to our computers and get to the most challenging part of the process: figuring out which microbes all the different snippets of DNA belong to. 

It’s a bit like taking a famous painting like the Mona Lisa and photocopying it 10,000 times, then chopping it up into thousands of pieces, throwing away 95% of them, putting the remaining pieces in a box, and asking someone to recreate the original picture. 

All of this takes time. The process of reading the DNA fragments alone takes around 48 hours. And because every microbiome we analyze is unique, figuring out which bugs are in there takes another 2-3 days. 

So once the microbial Mona Lisa is reassembled and we know exactly which microbes are in your gut and how many there are of each, what exactly do we look for? What makes a healthy or an unhealthy microbiome?

How diverse is your microbiome? 

First, we look at your overall microbiome diversity. This means how many different types of microbes are living in your gut. 

A higher diversity of ‘good’ gut bugs is beneficial for your health. Research suggests that having a wide array of microbes in our gut makes our microbiome more capable and resilient. 

A more diverse microbiome with more ‘good’ bugs works better than a microbiome with relatively few kinds of ‘good’ bacteria because if one microbe is unable to fulfill its function, another is available to step in.

Which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria do you have?

Through our research, we have identified a panel of 15 ‘good’ and 15 ‘bad’ types of microbes associated with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ markers of health, along with their favorite foods. 

We look at which of these good and bad microbes you have and put all this information together to come up with your ZOE Microbiome Health Score™. 

All of these insights feed into your personalized nutrition advice. This includes recommendations for foods that you can include to help the ‘good’ bugs to thrive and those you should limit to prevent the ‘bad’ ones from growing, to help improve your gut health.

Want to find out more about your gut health and how you can eat to support your gut? Check out our ZOE test kit and get started on your journey to understand your unique biology today.

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