Enlarge / The three stooges at rest.

They have no idea they’re doing their part to further scientific knowledge. (credit: Elle Cayabyab Gitlin)
Ever wondered about the bacteria in your cat’s gut? It’s probably not something that crops up in most people’s daily lives, but some of us care.

The evidence for that is Kittybiome, a crowdfunding project that’s trying to survey the biological diversity in cats’ intestines.
Suitably intrigued, and keen to do my bit, I backed the project.

And that’s how I came to be staking out the litter box over the summer, armed with nitrile gloves and three poop-collection kits. You know, for science.
It’s all about what’s known as the “microbiome”—the populations of microbes that we carry around on our skin and in our guts.

Equipped with ever-cheaper and faster DNA sequencing, scientists are now able to catalogue these communities of microbes, which we are finding can have a powerful influence on health and disease. While much of the microbiome research to date has, understandably, focused on the relationship between these microbes and humans, animals have their own microbiomes. Which is where Holly Ganz and her colleagues come in; they’re applying the techniques refined in humans to understand more about the cats and dogs with whom many of us share our lives.
Ganz, now founder and CEO of Animalbiome, told Ars that “It started as a citizen science project that I started with Jonathan Eisen and a couple of other researchers.” She was studying the microbiome of animals at the Genome Center at UC, Davis, when she realized that getting people to contribute microbiome samples from their cats could be a fun way to get the public to participate in research. “So we did a Kickstarter, partly because academic funding is increasingly hard to obtain and partly because veterinary grants are small and hard to get.”
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