This is not a drill: two health-tech companies are building the world’s first database for images of poop and they need your poop pics.
The campaign is called “#GiveAShit For Science” and asks people to upload photos of their bowel movements by using a smartphone browser to visit seed.com/poop (yes, that’s the whole URL).
The companies behind the initiative are Seed, a “microbial sciences” company that conducts microbiome research (and sells a probiotic), and Auggi, an AI company developing technology to treat gut disorders.
One of the objectives of the campaign is about awareness, getting people to pay more attention to their gut health via their poops.
“Areas like stool and bacteria, and a lot of the things that we work in, are very stigmatized and have a lot of taboo,” Ara Katz, Seed’s co-founder and co-CEO, told Mashable. “We really try and think about ways that we can bring these ideas into public consciousness and make people, say, give a shit about them.”
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💩Citizen scientists, we need your help. 💩⠀ ⠀ We have a dozen words for our shit and a thousand expressions using it, but somehow we still don’t (really) know it. And some 70 million Americans are quietly living with digestive disorders and shitty shit. For some reason, we find poop gross, embarrassing, weird. But, until we learn the language to talk about it, the people who need care the most won’t get it. It’s time for us to break taboos and destigmatize poop.⠀ ⠀ Today, we launch Citizen Science 1.0, in partnership with @auggihealth, to build the world’s first (and largest) crowdsourced poop image database.⠀ ⠀ Yes, really. With a large enough dataset, we’ll be able to train an AI to learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy poop, automate symptom tracking and analysis, and change the future of gut health and patient care.⠀ ⠀ Auggi has already begun training with 36,000 clay models of poop (play-doh!), but now it’s time to get real—with real images of real poop from real humans.⠀ ⠀ Here’s where you come in. It’s easy: before you flush (and before you wipe 🧻), take a photo 📸of your poop and upload it to seed.com/poop ⬆️(it’s completely anonymous).⠀ ⠀ We dare you to #GIVEASHIT for science¹.⠀ ⠀ ________⠀ ⠀ ¹ After a week of fires, we woke up this morning to the news of another massive one raging through the Getty area. As thousands in our own backyard face evacuation, we struggled about whether to launch this campaign. While poop has very little to do with climate change, it’s further reiteration of our mission to protect and empower science, and collectively move it forward. Let’s give a shit about our poop, our waste, our planet, our home. Hurting for our friends, family, neighbors, community; and so grateful for the heroism of our firefighters and first responders. Be safe, Los Angeles. 💛
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Beyond awareness raising, there are loftier aspirations for the dookie data collection, too. The database will be open source so researchers anywhere will be able to study our collective samples. Additionally, the more concrete goal for the database is to provide training data for an algorithm that will eventually be able to recognize and analyze poops of varying degrees of healthiness.
Apparently, you can learn a lot about a person’s gut health through visual biomarkers in poop pics!
The companies say this could some day make a difference for doctors who do the tedious work of stool analysis, patients with gastro-intestinal disorders who rely on stool monitoring to manage their health, and for assessing the efficacy of probiotic-based medicine.
That’s why they’re calling the #GiveAShit campaign a “citizen science” initiative, positioning it as a chance for everyone to help inform knowledge about gut health.
“The technology we’re trying to develop after this campaign is really a way to make that process automatic, accurate, and as seamless as possible for patients to collect their data, as well as to be able to share it with physicians,” Auggi co-founder David Hechuel said.
Katz says there has been an explosion in research on the relationship between overall health and the bacteria that inhabits and manages our bodies (AKA our microbiome). That has included how ingesting live cultures (probiotics) can improve the health of our microbiomes, our gut, and overall health.
As so often happens, though, enthusiasm about the field is outpacing the science in the consumer realm, so companies and products (both dubious and legitimate) capitalizing on the probiotics and microbiome analysis trend have proliferated. Katz describes this as “gut mania,” which can be a problem when companies use “probiotic” to inaccurately describe cultures that aren’t live or aren’t in the correct doses.
“Unfortunately, in the U.S., unlike in the E.U., the term ‘probiotic’ is not regulated,” Katz said. “Hence, probiotic tortilla chips, probiotic pillows, probiotic beverages, probiotic pretty much everything if you walk into the grocery store pharmacy right now.”
That can be an even bigger problem when these companies provide health and medical interventions that aren’t backed up by science, such as companies that sell at-home stool analysis kits to inform customers how to live their lives.
“We believe that it is very, very early to be able to take somebody’s stool, particularly in any kind of home testing environment, and be able to tell them anything from it,” Katz said.
But that’s what the poop database is trying to get at, sort of. Auggi and Seed hope that the database-trained AI will eventually help patients monitor how their health improves or degrades when they introduce microbiome interventions, like changing diets or taking probiotics.
Katz says the goal for database is two-fold: “to get the AI trained so that technologies can empower patients and subsequently empower companies like Seed to be able to understand our impact in an individual’s health.”
The poop database is undeniably giggle-inducing; the prospect of capturing a poop portrait titteringly intimidating. It’s also a clever, if gimmicky way, to draw attention to an area with a lot of misinformation and aversion — especially in a field crowded with companies advertising the ability to hack your body.
Still, #GiveAShit’s focus on taking the project one step at a time, in order to advance understanding in this exploding field, is commendable. And not just for the all the poop puns.