Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome

Imagine if there were an organ in your body that weighed as much as your brain, that affected your health, your weight, and even your behavior. Wouldn’t you want to know more about it? There is such an organ — the collection of microbes in and on your body, your human microbiome.

About The Course

The human body harbors up to ten times as many microbial cells as human cells. What are these microbes and what are they doing? How can we study them to find out? What do they tell us about ourselves? Just as our human genome records traces of who we are and the conditions we have adapted to during evolutionary history, our microbial genomes may record traces of what we have eaten, where we have lived, and who we have been in contact with. The microbial ecosystems in different parts of our bodies, which differ radically from one another, also supply a wide range of functions that affect many aspects of human health.

Join us on a guided tour of the human gut and its microscopic inhabitants. We will first review what microbes are and how they get into our bodies. We will then discuss the methods we use to study microbial communities and briefly explore how gut microbiome data are analyzed. This information will provide us with a foundation to explore current microbiome research. We will cover topics such as the influence of the gut microbiota on our nutrition, health and behavior. Did you know that gut microbes may influence how sick we get or the way we feel? The course will culminate with an in-depth review of the American Gut Project, the world's largest open-source, crowd-sourced science project, from how it works to what it’s taught us up until now.

Frequently Asked Questions

I heard DrRobKnight did a Reddit IAmA--is this true?
Yes he did, and it was awesome! Check it out here: We had some terrific questions which can give you an idea of what the course is about plus there are some great links to related research.

Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

What resources will I need for this class?
For this course, you will need an Internet connection and the time to view the videos and complete the assignments. 

What are some cool things I'll learn from this class?
You will learn how your gut microbes work for you to develop your immune system, help you digest food, and protect you from disease. You will also learn how fecal transplants work and how your diet can affect your microbiome. If you've participated or plan to participate in the American Gut Project, you will learn how your sample is processed and analyzed, and how to better understand and interpret your results.

Am I more human or more microbial?
Your body has ten times as many microbial cells as human cells, and any two people will share 99% of their human DNA but only 10% or less of their microbial DNA. 

How do I sign up for the American Gut Project?
You can make a donation and join the fun here! Also check out this cool project.

Recommended Background

Basic knowledge of biology