With over 95% of the world’s population having at least one health problem and with some populations impacted more severely by health inequities than others, a University of Nevada, Reno researcher is studying how the trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes present in the digestive tract affect the health of Nevadans.
Assistant Professor Steven Frese, as part of the Department of Nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, is conducting the microbiome study, which is unusually open.
“A lot of studies that have been completed focused deeply on particular populations and aren’t representative of the socioeconomic, racial and ethnic composition of the country,” he said. “We hope that with this study, we will be able to characterize the microbiome of people in Nevada in a more representative way. We want to tell the story of what the microbiome of Nevadans actually is, rather than guess from other populations.”
Participants in the anonymous study complete surveys about their lifestyle, what they eat, and their exercise habits and medical history. They also donate a fecal sample. When the study is complete, they’ll have access to their own results and see how they compare to this study and others, at no cost to them.
“They'll get a participant card with their own unique barcode and when the study results are available, they can go to the website to see what their results are,” Frese said.
Their results will help Frese characterize the microbiome of Nevadans, allowing scientists to make links between health behaviors, microbiomes and health issues.
Frese’s long-term goal with this study is to examine how diet, lifestyle and the microbiome interact across a representative sample of people who call Nevada home. The study will also examine how social networks and families, homelessness, and food insecurity may affect Nevadans’ microbiome and health.
The study, with support from the College’s Experiment Station unit, is part of Frese’s overall work to:
- Develop technology and therapies that improve health and nutrition,
- Bring these innovations to practice in the health care and food industries, and
- Identify and help populations that are not yet being served by his field.
The study addresses two ethical dilemmas in microbiome research identified by The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health at the University of Washington: whether data is being collected from a representative sample of the population, and the return of research results and incidental findings to participants.
Frese is already enrolling participants in the study and working to ensure a diversity of samples. Study materials are available in English and Spanish, and Frese is prepared to translate them into other languages, to launch targeted recruitment efforts, and to partner with Extension offices to provide sample drop-off locations across the state.
“With coolers, icepacks and mailing labels,” Frese said, “we can capture urban-rural divide demographics that are important to Nevada.”
To learn more about or to sign up to participate in the study, visit the lab's website.