Probing impact of sleep disruption on mental and physical well-being

Published:25 February 2016

Dr Amy Reynolds

Leading microbial genomics company uBiome is collaborating with researchers from CQUniversity's Appleton Institute in Adelaide and the University of Chicago to explore ways in which sleep duration affects the composition of the human microbiome, and whether this may in turn play a part in mental health problems and weight management issues.

The microbiome is the collective term for the trillions of bacteria living in and on our body, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract.

 To sign up for the study, please go to .

Too much of the wrong types of bacteria can make us vulnerable to all kinds of chronic health conditions, and having the right kinds are crucial for staying healthy. For example, good gut bacteria help us digest certain types of food that the body cannot process by itself, and they also play an important part in synthesizing vitamins.

Previous work by other scientists (Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, 2014) has demonstrated that mice that were specially bred to be germ-free and then inoculated with gut bacteria transplanted from sleep-disrupted, jet-lagged humans put on more weight when fed a typical Western high-fat diet than control mice.

Rather than using mice as a proxy for humans, the new study by uBiome and CQUniversity will investigate the direct relationship between individuals who get insufficient sleep and their microbiomes.

uBiome is the world’s leading microbial genomics company, applying next generation high-throughput DNA sequencing technology to generate detailed analysis of the human microbiome. Individuals can have their own microbiomes tested by providing a straightforward self-swabbed sample, returned by mail.

Dr Amy Reynolds, Research Associate at CQUniversity's Appleton Institute, is leading the new study, in collaboration with Dr Melissa Dsouza, a microbial ecologist from University of Chicago.

Dr Reynolds says that, while there is compelling evidence of a relationship between sleep and the gut microbiota in murine (mouse and rat) studies, "we still don’t have a clear picture of how different sleep duration and quality may be related to the microbial colonies in our gut".

"The Appleton Institute and uBiome collaboration is aiming to bridge the gap in understanding the sleep and gut microbiota relationships in humans."

Jessica Richman, co-founder and CEO of uBiome, says: “We're honoured to be partnering with CQUniversity in Australia on this important work, which has enormous potential to expand understanding of the relationship between sleep and the human microbiome. It's also a powerful demonstration of how we, as a genomics company in San Francisco, can support ground-breaking academic research anywhere in the world."

Dr Zachary Apte, CTO and co-founder of uBiome adds: “Our sampling process is really user-friendly, and because research participants’ bacterial DNA is 'frozen in time', their samples can safely travel from Adelaide and anywhere in the world to our San Francisco lab for analysis without their integrity being compromised.”

The Appleton Institute is a multidisciplinary research hub in Adelaide, South Australia forming part of CQUniversity's School of Human, Health and Social Sciences. The Institute, led by renowned fatigue and human factors expert Professor Drew Dawson, combines excellence in research, teaching and community engagement across a range of scientific areas including sleep, biological rhythms, and applied psychology.

uBiome was launched in 2012 by scientists and technologists educated at Stanford and UCSF after a crowdfunding campaign raised over $350,000 from citizen scientists, over triple its initial goal. The company is funded by Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator, and other leading investors. uBiome’s mission is to use big data to understand the human microbiome by giving users the power to learn about their bodies, perform experiments, and see how current research studies apply to them.