Eating for Trillions: The Social Lives of Direct to Consumer Microbiome Tests


Project Summary:

This project looks at how Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) microbiome test users in an urban post-industrial context understand their bodies. Analyzing their experiences is significant as a way of understanding the accelerating biologization of human relations in the “postgenomic condition” (Reardon 2017). The microbiome is a term that scientists use to refer to the combined genetic material (the genome) of the microbes in a human body. DTC microbiome tests examine a tiny fraction of the trillions of cells in a human body that belong to microscopic microbes, like bacteria, fungi and viruses (e.g. Paxson 2008; Yong 2016). The tests can be seen as an example of precision medicine, a form of medicine that offers therapeutics optimized with genomic profiling. DTC test companies’ marketing strategies hinge on convincing consumers to purchase their analysis in order to optimize personal wellness. The project combines online ethnography with participant observation with food fermenters in Toronto, as well as interviews with naturopaths and other health professionals, DTC testing company, health food marketers.
The project will also situate DTC test users’ lived experiences of their bodies and frequent experiences of precarity and uncertainty in a wider social and political context o in political economies of North American biotechnology and biomedicine (Lorimer 2017).

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SSHRC Insight Development Grant
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