Microbiologist tries at-home test kits to see what they reveal about microbiome

Does it ever make you wonder what small creatures are in your body? As a microbiologist who studies the microbiomes of plants, animals, and people, I have watched the public interest in gut microbes grow. Microbiome testing techniques used by researchers like me are now available to consumers at home The kits claim to tell you what organisms live in your gut and how to improve it.

I was interested in how these home test kits work, what kind of information they give, and whether or not they can help change your gut microbiome. I ordered a few kits from several companies and tried them out before making a final decision. This is what I've learned so far.

Your gut microbiome can be a partner in your health—if you have the right bacteria.

How do gut microbiome kits work?

Freshly collected fecal material is required for all gut microbiome kits. You mail the samples back to the company after putting them in the various tubes. A report about the types of microbes in your gut will be sent to you several weeks later.


Consumers don't know how companies generate the data from fecal samples I and other researchers use an approach to extract and decode the genetic material from samples. The genetic material is used to identify the species of microbes. There are no universally agreed upon standards for what is the best way to do this process.

Different home gut microbiome test kits can give conflicting results.
Enlarge / Different home gut microbiome test kits can give conflicting results.

Two types of genetic material can be analyzed. The profile can only give you a snapshot of what types of microbes are present, not what activities they are doing in your body. If the profile is based onRNA, it can tell you not only what microbes are present, but also whether they are playing a role in your digestion or producing metabolites that can reduce gut inflammation. The other companies use a different method for generating their profiles.

The level of detail and utility of the final data can be affected by other data analysis choices. Microbiome scientists are very careful when interpreting their own data in scientific papers, but they don't always show these details in home microbiome kits.