A pile of science runs out of steam ….
uBiome had its start as a citizen science project aimed at studying the microbiome. It seemingly had noble intentions, but alas, just 5 months ago the FBI suddenly raided their offices over news that they had been double-billing insurance companies, after raising more than $100 million in venture funding. Just yesterday, this once immense company filed for bankruptcy.
Myself and other citizen science proponents felt a sense of inspiration by this effort. During a time where companies like 23andMe were dominant players in the direct-to-consumer genomics market, uBiome brought a sense of community in its early advertisements. Much to my disappointment however, it seems as though uBiome has fallen to corruption and greed. No one can condone that, and I certainly don’t.
As a citizen-powered research project however, a great many customers financially supported the construction of the largest database of fecal microbiome data in existence. Many health experts have argued that the value of this data is oversold, but I as a researcher remain optimistic that data like this can be immensely valuable for health and aging research. If you bought their kit, you paid for it, and there is little reason to let this data ever go to waste.
Save Your Data!
The purpose of this post is to convince you to login to your uBiome account now and download the RAW data that YOU paid for, and to do this today before it may be too late. In light of the bankruptcy filings yesterday, there is no way of predicting if their site will remain up in the coming days. Even if this data is not valuable now, it may be personally valuable to you in the future. Currently, it is very valuable to both professional scientists, and citizen scientists.
Here’s how to save your data – do it now!
Step 1 : Login (duh…)
If you haven’t been here in years, you may need to reset your account password, unless you had it tattooed for convenience.
Step 2 : Find the download tool
It’s a tad buried in their site. Click Advanced Data, and then Download.
Step 3 : Select and download the three data files for each kit
If you are like me, and you have more than one kit, you’ll want to select each one in the menu on the left. All of the data is important for different reasons, but it’s best to grab them in order from top to bottom. The middle button (for JSON) might simply open a new page of computer-code in your browser. To save this, just use File -> Save in whichever browser you are using.
What do I do with this data?
You paid for this data to be created, so you should hold onto it anyways in case it becomes valuable to your health in the future. There are numerous tutorials online for how you can analyze it. Furthermore, you can donate your data to citizen scientists!
Open humans is a great community of biohackers who want to collect data such as this and study it. Right now, their website is tooled to take uBiome uploads. I strongly endorse the OpenHumans foundation. They are great people who firmly believe in the open science mission, and to date, they have built an incredible platform.
InfinoMe, the organization that hosts this blog, was founded in 2013 by a two-man team to study aging and obesity. We have primarily focused on gathering genomic and fitness tracker datasets, and to date have helped ~10,000 people study their 23andMe and other datasets. About a year ago however, 23andMe killed their API program, much to the disservice to their millions of customers. Our project has been on hiatus ever since, but we are ramping up again.
We will have an upload tool for uBiome data very soon. If this project interests you, add your email to our announcement newsletter below, and we will let you know when cool stuff happens.
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The American Gut project has been around as long as uBiome, and has a far more opensource community. It’s driven by talented scientists with noble intentions. They sell their own kits for research, and my hope is that they will step into the void uBiome is leaving behind.
I for one wish that Silicon Valley had far fewer perverse incentives that continue to crop up in health-tech. Behind many of these fraudulent companies are nameless employees with a deep desire to improve the human condition by curing diseases. uBiome might recover under more honest leadership, but it might not, and we needn’t let all of that good research data go to waste.