Gut Instinct

Collaboratively creating scientific theories
You can now design and run experiments to test your intuitions!
Go here to get started!
Gut microbiome

People generate hypotheses by looking at their microbiome data and tracking their lifestyle

The human gut microbiome is the community of microbes (and their gene products) interacting in the human gut. However, research has only scratched the surface of under- standing the microbiome and using it to improve our well-being. The American Gut Project (AGP) is the world's largest crowdfunded citizen science project. AGP participants contribute their samples for bacterial marker gene sequencing and analysis. Participants then receive a summary of their results with all their raw data. Anonymized data is publically available. AGP seeks to build a comprehensive map of the human microbiome, and identify its healthy and unhealthy components.

Learn Ask Answer

Learn, Train, Ask!
People hold the key to understanding the gut microbiome

The structure of the human microbiome is influenced by many factors, including age, genetics, diet, and xenobiotic and antibiotic use. The gut microbiome in particular plays an important role in metabolism and immune system development, and some microbiome dysbioses have been associated with diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, type I and type II diabetes, autism, multiple sclerosis, and malnutrition. The human microbiome is impossible to understand without information about its host and many influence factors remain unknown. Teaching people about the gut microbiome and having them guess associations between the microbiome and health and disease states can potentially accelerate the process of discovering links between diet, disease, and lifestyle factors and the gut microbiome.

Gut Instinct

Gut Instinct System

Gut Instinct is a collaborative system with a dual objective: help people learn about the gut microbiome, and catalyze the creation of a list of factors that may be associated with gut microbiome differences. People anonymously post questions about lifestyle and health for peers to answer. These questions and discussions provide researchers cues to build associations between lifestyle and the microbiome. Gut Instinct is a web application built with Meteor ( The front-end uses Angular ( and is stylized with Materialize (http://www.materialize.css). Try Gut Instinct

Results and Publications

Gut Instinct was evaluated with 400+ participants from 27 countries using a between subjects experiment
Hypotheses and novelty

75/399 hypotheses (19%) were rated novel; people shared specific insights from their lived experiments


Access to learning and just-in-time training improved quality of hypotheses


People contribute using many roles

Research papers and talks

  • Docent: Transforming personal intuitions to scientific hypotheses through content learning and process training. Vineet Pandey, Justine Debelius, Embriette R. Hyde, Tomasz Kosciolek, Rob Knight, Scott Klemmer. ACM Learning at Scale 2018. Paper, Talk

  • Creating Scientific Theories with Online Learners. Vineet Pandey, Amnon Amir, Justine Debelius, Embriette R. Hyde, Tomasz Kosciolek, Rob Knight, Scott Klemmer. CHI 2017. Paper, Talk

  • Integrating citizen science with online learning to ask better questions.
    Vineet Pandey, Scott Klemmer, Amnon Amir, Justine Debelius, Embriette R. Hyde, Tomasz Kosciolek, Rob Knight. Demo. HCOMP 2016.

Our Team

Lab Logos

Vineet Pandey

PhD student, Computer Science & Engineering

Chen Yang

Fourth year student developer & designer at UC San Diego
iOS developer at GoDaddy

Orr Toledano

Third year Student Developer majoring in Computer Engineering at UC San Diego

Dingmei Gu

Third year Computer Science student at UC San Diego

Daniel McDonald

Scientific Director at the American Gut Project

Scott Klemmer

Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science & Engineering

Rob Knight

Professor of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering


Tushar Koul

Full Stack Engineer at TaskRabbit

Aliyah Clayton

Third Year Computer Science Undergraduate Student at UC Irvine.

Brian Soe

Undergraduate Alumnus, Computer Science & Engineering. Software Engineer @GE Digital.

Ziyang Li

Fourth Year CS and Math Undergrad Student Specialized in Design and Webdev at UC San Diego.
2018 Summer Intern at Coursera.


Third Year Computer Science & Engineering Undergraduate at UC San Diego.
2018 Summer Intern at Viasat.

Kaung Yang

Fourth Year Computer Science Student at UC San Diego

Amnon Amir

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Justine Debelius

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Embriette Hyde

Assistant Project Scientist, Project Manager, American Gut Project

Tomasz Kosciolek

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

What Gut Instinct Users say?

Love the tool's question board, and the way it allows (and even encourages) creative questions. I wonder what other rich, interesting domains the tool can be applied to. Looking forward to the next iteration. :)

Anonymous citizen scientist

I really like the concept of this whole thing. It is a very very efficient way to learn a new topic. The fact that I could ask questions and get data from others is just awesome!!

Anonymous citizen scientist

It was a really good tool. I feel i would definitely love to contribute more on topics that are more relevant or interesting to me. And I definitely think this could be a great way to get information from 'citizen scientists'.

Anonymous citizen scientist

Gut Instinct data use and FAQs

How does Gut Instinct use my data?

High-level summary: Gut Instinct uses your questions to uncover create potentially novel hypotheses, and your experimental data to test hypotheses.

  1. Questions created by you: American Gut scientists will look at your questions to create novel hypotheses. These hypotheses can be tested using data from American Gut project or via community-designed experiments. If you provide your American Gut ID to Gut Instinct, your questions can be used to draw correlations between your lifestyle and your gut microbiome.

  2. Options added by you or your response to other questions: Same as above

  3. Email: Gut Instinct will send you notifications and newsletter to help you identify useful questions. Your email will not be shared with anyone and it will be securely stored on our cloud database.

  4. Location: Gut Instinct will attempt to draw correlations among people's response to questions and their location, and their location and gut microbiome data (if you provide your American Gut id). Your location can also be used to customize notifications/reminders sent to you (e.g. based on your time zone).

  5. American Gut ID : Your American Gut ID to draw correlations between your gut microbiome data and your questions/answers on above questions. Your American Gut id will not be shared with anyone beyond the project team and it will be securely stored on our cloud database

    How does Gut Instinct support experimentation?

    High-level summary: Gut Instinct provides support for anyone to design, review, and run experiments with a community. More here:

  1. Is Gut Instinct another way to perform Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs)?

    No. Gut Instinct shares the same principle of hypothesis testing as RCTs and employs similar method overall (create hypothesis -> design an experiment to test the hypothesis -> randomly assign people to different conditions -> analyze data). However, the quality of data and the quality of final results IS NOT the same as RCTs. RCTs are designed and implemented by expert clinicians and scientists while experiments on Gut Instinct are designed by people who might have zero scientific training. Please note that the experiments on Gut Instinct are designed and run entirely by online citizens and experts are not involved in the process.

  2. Can I use the results of Gut Instinct experiments to alter my lifestyle?

    No. Before making any changes to your lifestyle (regardless of whether you suffer from any ailment/condition/disease or not), you should discuss with your clinician or health service provider. Gut Instinct DOES NOT support, encourage, or request lifestyle changes based on the results. Furthermore, you should not participate in any experiment if you know it can harm you (e.g. please do not participate in an experiment involving eating nuts if you are allergic to them) or if you’re not comfortable with the changes mentioned in the experimental steps.

    You can leave the experiment at any moment, even after you’ve started participating, without providing any reasons at all.

  3. Why should I participate in experiments on Gut Instinct?

    Gut Instinct provides people with a tool to share their health related insights and test them by designing and running experiments. By participating in experiments on Gut Instinct, you:

    1. Can learn more about how different factors might affect your health outcomes (e.g. does drinking coffee reduce your quality of sleep)
    2. Can help others find answers to their questions by joining their experiments
    3. Learn more about the basic process used by scientists

  4. Can I use the information on GutBoard to change my lifestyle or improve my health?

    No. Discussions on GutBoard should not be taken as health advice. This includes feedback from scientific material - All questions, answers and conversations on GutBoard are intended to get you thinking about relations between your lifestyle and health outcomes. For any changes to your lifestyle, please consult your doctor/clinician.

  5. Who owns the research outcomes of experiments created by me?

    All the work on Gut Instinct will be released with Creative Commons license. Your questions, answers, experimental designs, experimental data, and all other activity are not owned by anyone but rather public information that can be accessed and used by anyone.

  6. How do you stop people from posting malicious content (trolling)?

    Any participant can flag a question and researchers can remove the question if it’s inappropriate. We do not implement aggressive filtering to allow people to share seemingly distant ideas for the microbiome. The same holds for experiments.

  7. How do you make sure people create good questions or experiments?

    Gut Instinct provides learning and training material about creating useful hypotheses/experiments.

Please read our UC San Diego Institutional Review Board approved Consent Page here to know more.
Please shoot us an email with any questions or requests to delete your data at . We will respond within 48 hours.

Get in Touch with us

Still have Questions about Gut Instinct? Contact Us by sending us an email to