What Is uBiome?

By Derek Lakin
HighYa Staff Published on: Jul 18, 2017

As a genetics company, uBiome offers two sequencing-based microbiome screening tests that promise to provide customers with actionable insight they can use to understand and improve their gut health.

Specifically, the website tells us that you’ll be able to discover the bacteria that live in and on your body (collectively referred to as the ‘microbiome’), and whether these microorganisms are beneficial or pathogenic—such as those associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

From there, you’ll learn how diet and lifestyle factors can affect these microorganisms and potentially help you feel better.

Together, uBiome’s claim that they’re “pioneering a new era of microbiome-based precision medicine" seems warranted. But does this necessarily mean the price you pay will deliver the value you expect? Stick with us, and we'll help you explore important factors like these.

What Importance Does Your Microbiome Play?

The microbiome is defined as “the microorganisms in a particular environment (the body as a whole or a part of the body),” including their combined genetic material.

According to University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center, like any other community on earth, these microorganisms respond to their surroundings and continuously shift throughout our lifetime. But if these populations shift too far in one direction, leading to an excessive number of “bad” microorganisms, they report it can result in a whole host of conditions; from acne and asthma to eczema and obesity.

From a gut health perspective, this is the basic approach behind probiotics. These supplements contain specific bacteria strains, which are typically chosen based on their ability to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria and potentially address digestion-related issues.

Now, how does uBiome fit into this picture?

SmartGut vs. Explorer: How Do the uBiome Tests Work?

uBiome currently offers two different consumer-level screening services:

What Are the Details Behind uBiome’s SmartGut Test?

Available only in the U.S., SmartGut is designed for patients experiencing chronic gut conditions or those who are working with their physician to optimize their gut microbiome.

Speaking of which, the test must be ordered by your doctor, and involves an easy-to-use collection kit that requires just enough fecal matter to tint a cotton swab. Then, this is cleanly returned in a pre-paid mailer.

uBiome SmartGut Sample Collection KitAccording to their website, uBiome’s SmartGut Collection Kit includes everything you’ll need to obtain a sample, which will be sent back to the company using a pre-paid label. Image credit: uBiome, Inc.

Once received by the company’s CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited lab, they’ll use their high-throughput DNA sequencing technology to measure your bacterial diversity and identify specific pathogens that could be making you feel less-than-optimal. This includes microorganisms associated with conditions like IBS, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and even sore throat.

Their Microbiome Diversity Score will also let you know “how your microbiome compares to healthy participants from the world’s largest microbiome research dataset,” as well as how your lifestyle and diet impact these microorganisms.

With these details in mind, it’s important to point out the uBiome site emphasizes that SmartGut does not represent “a diagnosis without the evaluation of your symptoms by a medical professional” and that it’s “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

What About the uBiome Explorer Test?

Comparatively, Explorer is available to residents of 202 countries and was designed “for citizen scientists and academic researchers to conduct experiments relating to the microbiome.”

Customers have the opportunity to take samples from up to five different sites, including the nose, skin, mouth, genitalia (both male and female), as well as the gut. Just swab across the corresponding site, send the kit back to uBiome, and you’ll receive results within 4-6 weeks.

Instead of a detailed report like with the SmartGut screen, Explorer will provide access to online interactive tools (e.g. graphs and charts) that can help you understand how your bacteria compare to others, as well as the ability to track your bacteria over time (should you decide to order more than one test):

  • Gut Explorer – A one-time test for curious beginners.
  • Time Lapse Explorer – A three-time sequence that could be handy for tracking levels before, during, and after a diet or other lifestyle change.
  • Five Site Explorer – Provides access to five sample sites, including gut, mouth, nose, genitals, and skin.

Regardless of which screen you choose, uBiome indicates your data is protected by “multiple layers of encryption and the highest levels of computer security. You control your data, and can choose whether or not you consent to having your data be anonymized and aggregated into our research studies.”

How Much Does a uBiome Screen Cost?

According to the FAQ on uBiome’s website, their SmartGut test is currently only available to residents of the U.S. through their Pilot program. While this means you must have health insurance in order to participate, they note that “any costs not covered by your insurance company will be covered by uBiome.” In other words, it’s free while this program is operational.

However, their Explorer tests are priced as follows:

  • Gut Explorer: One-time purchase $89, $71.20 as monthly subscription
  • Time Lapse Explore: One-time purchase $199
  • Five Site Explorer: One-time purchase $399, $319.20 as monthly subscription

Refunds aren’t available on uBiome’s tests, although customer service can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

What Can We Learn From uBiome Reviews?

We found two uBiome customer reviews on Amazon at the time of our research, who had given the genetic screening service an average rating of three stars. The five-star reviewer stated that they were excited to see their lifestyle changes reflected in their screening, while the one-star reviewer wasn’t satisfied with the requirement to share their information, or their overall results.

Back in 2015, Discover Magazine’s Sarah Scoles ordered a uBiome SmartGut screen and concluded:

“I didn’t pay $89 for my sample analysis kit. But if I had, I would have been disappointed. And if I had paid $399 for the five-site kit, I would have been even more so. The amount of readily available information provided little enlightenment about what my internal lurkers meant about me.

While we know the microbiome is important (so important!), we’re just beginning our research into the specifics. And big data — your data — is the way to learn what a high firmicute to bacteriodete ratio means for health. Given that, it would be more appropriate for uBiome to pay you to swab your toilet paper than for you to give them $90 so you can learn what they can’t yet tell you.”

More recently, TechnologyReview.com interviewed Rob Knight, a microbiome researcher, professor at the University of California, San Diego, and co-founder of the American Gut project, who made a similar statement, noting "The enthusiasm of their manufacturers simply goes well beyond where the science is right now."

In other words, while these types of tests might engage us in science and help us learn more about our body, the actionable value they provided seems to currently be limited.

As far as the company, uBiome was founded in October 2012 by Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, who both worked at the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences. Then, in 2013, the company went on to raise nearly $363K in a 2013 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

Since that time, uBiome has received a variety of awards, including the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Healthcare by Fast Company, as well as CNN 10: Startups To Watch.

Given uBiome’s early success, has this created any competition in the marketplace?

uBiome vs. Other Microbiome Sampling Companies

While there weren’t a whole lot of microbiome screening companies competing with uBiome at the time of our research, there were several other popular options. These included:

Company Price Screening Services / Information Provided
uBiome Free - $399 Gut; Exterior (nose, skin, mouth, genitalia) - Bacterial diversity, microorganisms related to specific conditions
Thryve $99 Gut – Diet and supplement recommendations, learn about probiotic strains, how to improve leaky gut
Map My Gut £250 Gut bacteria classification and what they can mean for health
DexaFit Microbiome Gut Analysis (powered by uBiome) $89 Gut microorganism identification and symptoms they can cause
DayTwo.com $299 Gut - Personalized nutrition and sugar response predictions; app access

How can you choose the right option?

Each of these seemed to come with meaningfully different prices, along with a variety of information contained in their reports. So, if price is your most important factor, a free SmartGut screen through uBiome might be difficult to beat, although you’ll need to have health insurance to qualify.

On the other hand, if you’re diabetic, the DayTwo.com screen might be ideal, while those specifically interested in probiotics or supplement recommendations might be better served by Thryve.

Let’s carry these thoughts over to the final section as we wrap things up.

What’s the Bottom Line About uBiome?

Returning to the TechnologyReview article cited earlier, they emphasize “there’s a lot we don’t know about the microbiome and its connection to our health.”

As a result, American Gut project co-founder Rob Knight acknowledges that "what people can realistically expect to learn from these new commercial tests is more along the lines of a snapshot of how a participant's microbiome compares to others with different diets, ages, and lifestyles, or in different places around the world."

Given these important factors, only you—in conjunction with a healthcare professional, of course—can decide if the “cool” factor behind a gut microbiome screen like uBiome is worth the time and overall expense. But if you’re suffering from a more severe or chronic condition, it just might provide the information you need to find some relief.

See Also: Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing Pros & Cons: Is It Right for You?

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35 Consumer Reviews for uBiome

Average Consumer Rating: 1.8
Rating Snapshot:
5 star: 6 4 star: 1 3 star: 0 2 star: 1 1 star:  27
Bottom Line: 20% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 35
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  • 2 out 3 people found this review helpful

    Horrible, shady company that didn't provide services

    • Florida,
    • Oct 13, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I submitted a stool sample last year for a microbiome test. While awaiting results, I was inundated with emails asking me to send in an ADDITIONAL test. Why would I send in a second test before I even got my results for the FIRST test? Well, over a year later, after twenty more emails and still no results, I decided to call. Turns out some "doctor" assigned to my tests, whom they guy I spoke with wouldn't even give me his name, canceled my test. Who is is this doctor? WHY!? Why was I never told that my test was canceled? Why was I asked to send in another test at least twenty times if the first one was canceled? I asked the man what happened to my test and he said he doesn't know and that it "probably wasn't processed". I attached two screenshots of my emails where it clearly shows they received my test and "reviewed" it. So what do you mean it wasn't "processed?" How could it be canceled by some doctor I don't even know and have never talked to after it had been "reviewed?" Look at all the emails I was sent asking me to send in an additional test even offering me money to do so. Why do you want my test so bad? So you can steal my DNA and not provide results for services I agreed to? Ok, good job uBiome. You managed to steal my DNA without providing services. I'll let as many people as I can know how shady your operation is.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 3 people found this review helpful

    Completely disappointed and ripped off

    • Orlando, FL,
    • Oct 7, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    The information the service provides is useless! You get the same information from your doctor's annual checkups if you go regularly. Not only that, but I’ve been charged over $2000 to my HRA account. They advised by email (because surprise, there is nowhere to call) that I would receive a refund in full because that was not supposed to happen. After 16 days, I received nothing. The amount of my refund was incorrect per whomever I’m emailing with. Just a complete disappointment all the way around. They didn’t provide any information I already didn’t know and completely drained my HRA account. I would NEVER recommend this service to anyone. I would steer them away from it and ask them to see their doctor.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 3 people found this review helpful

    Useless information that is sold to big pharma

    • San Francisco, CA,
    • Sep 28, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    uBiome is a deceptive company that uses consumers as research subjects to sell microbiome data to big pharma to help them make the next profitable drug. What they call "citizen science" is a complete sham. Somehow they fooled some insurers to pay for their tests (as well as some dumb investors) and are in the process of using this Ponzi scheme to sell your information to big pharma companies. The information they provide back to consumers is useless. Be forewarned, you are being used.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Very informative results

    • New South Wales, Australia,
    • Sep 23, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I am not based in the US so couldn't get the "free" test, so I paid for the Gut Explorer kit. After sending back the kit and getting the kit received email, it did take about four weeks to get the results, so after reading all of the bad reviews, I was a little bit worried.

    When I finally got the results, it was well worth the wait! It was a lot more comprehensive than I was expecting and very informative in regards to recommendations of foods and supplements to get certain bacteria up to a normal level.

    After taking on their recommendations, I am feeling better already and now will be purchasing the three tests pack to track my progress.

    100% would recommend this to all of the people who are struggling to find answers from doctors, dieticians, nutritionists, etc.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 4 out 4 people found this review helpful

    So impressed by this company and my results!

    • Phoenix, AZ,
    • Sep 10, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I was desperate to find out what the issues were with my gut health after cancer, chemo, and radiation. UBiome was amazing!

    My insurance covered it 100%, and I had my results in about three weeks.

    I signed up for the 6-time tests and am monitoring my gut health myself! The detailed information I received made me aware of what was lacking in my diet! I am actually excited to see what the next sample reads and see how much my health has changed.

    The customer service was very responsive by email to any and all of my questions and have been a wonderful tool for me to track my gut health!

    I am sure my GI doctor will be impressed with this company and my results!

    Give it a try if you have insurance and it is free! This is amazing new technology, and I am so glad I am a part of it!

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 5 out 6 people found this review helpful

    The worst

    • St. Louis, MO,
    • Aug 13, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    My provider thought using this company would provide useful information regarding the biodiversity of my gut. Not only did it take almost four months for them to provide sample kits, it has now been over a year for them to process my samples. Any issue I was having has been resolved without the "insight" of uBiome. I’ve also had extensive back and forth with employees requesting insurance information so they can process the billing for samples. Overall I am beyond frustrated dealing with this terrible company with even more horrendous customer service.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 6 out 7 people found this review helpful
    Updated review

    It took two months, but the results are amazing.

    • San Jose, CA,
    • Aug 9, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I'm replacing my first review, which was negative because I had not received any results. Finally they arrived, and wow! I've eaten probiotics for years, so I expected my score to be high. I'm way below average! My balance of most common bacteria tells the tale of why I'm struggling to lose weight, my gut is dominated with fat-storing bacteria. I'm on a new diet now with a new doctor and nutritionist, and I hope to reverse the years-long tend. This report is remarkably helpful. My only complaint is the time it took six weeks to get the results. I realized that they had trouble processing it.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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    • Jul 31, 2018

      David G.

      Update on my experience: I finally got my results! On July 31, almost 12 weeks after they received them. They did send an apology with a note that they had run into difficulty with my sample. My results are pretty remarkable: after two years of taking probiotics, my levels are at the bottom! So lots to learn there. I'd be glad to update my review if you let me know how to do that, with a much higher rating now that I have results.

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    • Previous review
    • Jul 3, 2018

    I never got results. Don't waste your money.

    I submitted my sample after paying the $85 up front. They confirmed receipt, and I waited four weeks, then I wrote to ask where my results were. Someone responded and said, "Thanks for your patience! We'll get right back to you." Three more weeks passed and I inquired again. Silence. After 8eightweeks, I think I can safely say my money was wasted.

    (read moreread less...)

  • 5 out 5 people found this review helpful

    Don't waste your money

    • Otsego, MI,
    • Jul 20, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    Seriously disorganized company. Bills insurance an astronomical amount of money and as of today I just keep getting emails saying we received your sample and are working on it. They sent me four more tests but no results.

    I will never fall for this again. I will call my insurance company and tell them not to pay them anything else. I guess by all the negative reviews I am not the only one who has big doubts.

    I cannot recommend this company at this time.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 5 out 5 people found this review helpful

    Either a scam or completely incompetent

    • Phoenix, AZ,
    • Jul 19, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I sent my sample in and I never received any results. I contacted them a month later, and they told me it would be just another couple of weeks. After a couple of weeks, I contacted them again, and they kept telling me that it is still being approved or something to that effect. The bottom line, I have no idea what these people are doing with my DNA, but it certainly is not what they said they would do. Do not trust this company.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 7 out 8 people found this review helpful

    NO!

    • Colorado,
    • Jul 11, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    No, do not send for this kit. I sent on for a kit when it was "free," and they were just getting started. Now almost a year later I find that my health insurance company has been billed $2900 for some type of DNA testing. My gut results were normal with no disease-including bacteria present, so why would I need further testing? NO! Do not send anything to this company!

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 8 out 9 people found this review helpful

    uBiome insurance scam, $2970 is how much they charge

    • Houston, TX,
    • Jun 25, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    Don’t give them your insurance information. In my case, I did smart gut (just one sample) and received data after a few weeks.

    BUT, my insurance (BCBS) was charged $2970, and according to EOB statement, I owe it all. Maybe I will not have to pay it all, but I wish I ordered from another company, and maybe pay a little up front and know for sure total cost. Also, try looking for a contact phone number on their website.

    To me, uBiome is just insurance scam. Please beware and stay away from them.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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