There's yet another social network on the internet - but this one pairs users up with people who share the same intestinal bacteria.
The new site, MyMicrobes, has been set up by researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, and aims to bring together individuals with the same gut flora so that they can share questions and concerns about their digestive health. As you might imagine, it looks set to be a rather niche network - and one that requires a little more than the usual email address and password to join.
After registering on the site, individuals are shipped a package of information and a stool-sample kit. It's then just a matter of providing the sample by post - along with $2,100 to cover the cost of having your gut bacteria sequenced - and you're a member. The site offers its users a way to meet people with similar gastrointestinal complaints, and provides a forum for sharing diet tips and digestive anecdotes with one another - remember, we did say it was niche. In exchange for providing users with the ability to share their - quite literally - innermost thoughts, the researchers will gather a wealth of data about the bacteria that live in peoples' guts.
The project was kick-started by a huge public response to the team's research into the genetics of gut bacteria. In a previous study the researchers found that certain gut-specific genetic markers were related to obesity and other diseases. "I got between 50 and 100 e-mails from regular people having problems with the stomach or diarrhoea and wondering if we can help them," Peer Bork, a biochemist and co-creator of MyMicrobes, told Nature. This new website will build on that work, whilst also providing support for concerned members of the public.
So far, around 120 people have registered their interest in the project - but not all of them have yet returned a sample, perhaps put off by the substantial price tag. Bork aired a note of caution when he spoke to Nature, saying "It requires a critical number of participants. Just like competitors of Facebook, we might fail to get that critical mass."
Let's just hope none of their critical mass gets lost in the post.
Image: Nisian Hughes/the Image Bank/Getty. This post originally appeared on New Scientist.