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Would You Take Poop Pics for Science?

Researchers who study the microbiome are hoping for a big data dump.

by Hannah Smothers
Oct 29 2019, 7:08pm

Ljiljana Bogdanovic / EyeEm via Getty

What can be learned from a humble piece of poop? What we expel is but a reflection of what we consume and what lies inside, hidden from view. In this way, to examine our poop is to examine ourselves… Or at least this is what the creators a new, crowdsourced poop database believe.

Scientists with Seed Health, a microbial health company, are crowdsourcing a dookie database with the ultimate goal of using pictures of human waste to train an artificial intelligence platform launched out of MIT to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy poop. They hope to collect at least 100,000 poop pics, which a team of seven gastroenterologists will take notes on to train the AI platform. Developers hope that the database will ultimately help people with chronic gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, according to the Verge.

Science can often sound kinda boring, but this is one instance where it’s actually very cool. For instance: Before launching the campaign to source real poop pics for the database, scientists started training the app that people will use to submit dump photos to recognize different kinds of poop by molding Play-Doh into poo shapes. Play-Doh kinda looks like poop just straight out of the little plastic tub, but, for accuracy’s sake, the developers molded it along the Bristol stool chart. This means they ostensibly shaped some of the Play-Doh to look like diarrhea, which is… pretty impressive! As the Verge reports, the scientists also 3D printed a whole-ass toilet, to emulate how things would look in real life.

But now the real work begins. Seed just launched its proprietary app for safely collecting the data, along with its campaign to collect the 100,000 poo pics. People who wish to contribute their waste to science can do so by going to seed.com/poop on their phone (not a laptop), and clicking on the button that says #GIVEaSHIT. They’ll then be asked for an email address and whether they’re a morning, afternoon, or evening dumper. From there, one is able to submit poop pics with anonymity—all metadata will be separated from the pics, for privacy and HIPAA compliance, before the photos are annotated by scientists.

It is, apparently, already very much a thing to post pics of poop online: There are multiple subreddits (which I will not link here) developed to poo rating and discussion; posting dookie pics on Instagram is so popular that it has its own community of #Poopstagram-ers (yes, this is allowed by Instagram’s terms of service). This seems extremely intimate and vulnerable, given what poop can reveal about a person’s lifestyle, but I suppose that’s the beauty in posting. Now interested parties can build upon the urge to share their toilet achievements by doing so for science, for the greater good of health and mankind. Onward and upward.

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