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Scientists can guess your age from your microbes

March 12, 2020

Elderly couple


Microorganisms on and in your body can tell scientists your age – sometimes within four years– setting the stage for new interventions and diagnostic tools built on analyses of microbes in your mouth, on your skin, and in your fecal matter.

That’s according to new research from UC San Diego and IBM.

The study, described in the mSystems microbiology journal, used machine learning and pre-existing sequencing data from nearly 9,000 fecal, saliva and skin samples from the US, China, UK, Canada and Tanzania from 18 to 90 years old who did not have inflammatory bowel disease or diabetes. To create a large sample size, the researchers mined microbiome sequencing information from public databases of citizen science initiatives like the American Gut Project.

Skin samples were used to estimate chronological age within approximately 3.8 years compared to 4.5 years for oral samples and 11.5 years for fecal samples.

Potential for new cures

The success of the work raises hopes that scientists can learn more about the microbiome’s impact on aging and related diseases, and set the stage for new interventions, risk assessments and diagnoses.

“Learning how to create accurate and robust microbiome-based models will open the door to a number of biotechnological applications, and help us better understand the relationship of certain bacteria with outcomes of interest,” said co-senior author Rob Knight, PhD, professor and director of the UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation.

“The accuracy of our results demonstrates the potential for applying machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to better understand human microbiomes,” said co-author Ho-Cheol Kim, PhD, program director of the Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Program, a collaboration between IBM Research and UC San Diego. “Applying this technology to future microbiome studies could help unlock deeper insights into the correlation between how microbiomes influence our overall health and a wide range of diseases and disorders from neurological to cardiovascular and immune health.”

Biospecimens at work

Humans have tens of trillions of microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses — on and in their body, mostly in the large intestine, with 200 times as many genes as the human genome. There is extensive research into the relationship between the microbiome, human health, and even the mind.

We’ve blogged about microbiome research many times, including here, and are fully equipped to supply biomedical researchers with the microbiome specimens they need for their work, including saliva, sputum and stool, as well as de-identified data about the patients from whom they came.

Guessing your age is just the start.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.