If you are interested in microbiome testing, you have likely heard of uBiome. As one of the very first microbiome testing companies, uBiome has the world’s largest database of microbiome data. They also allow for ‘time-lapse’ testing, which you can use to analyze your microbiome through a lifestyle change, such as a change in diet.
However, uBiome has recently been raided by the FBI for their fraudulent billing practices and had to lay off hundreds of employees. Further, because the raid stopped their predatory billing practices they had to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
The company is still offering one of their tests through the bankruptcy, which will likely end with a larger company buying uBiome and its operations. So, you should definitely read this full review before you decide to give them your money.
uBiome- Advantages and Disadvantages
This short review summarizes our main findings in reviewing uBiome. Check out the full review below!
- One of the first microbiome testing companies
- Largest microbiome database
- Nearly 1,000,000 users
- Users can choose a ‘time-lapse’ option, allowing tests throughout a lifestyle change
- uBiome conducts research and supports scientific endeavors related to the microbiome
- uBiome has engaged in devious and fraudulent billing practices
- Results are not clear, nor are they actionable
- The results will embellish the actual science behind microbiome testing
- Customer complaints against uBiome are harsh and overwhelming
Our Rating: 0% – going through bankrupcy
While the thought that microbiome testing can change your life is appealing, this is far from the actual truth. uBiome tries to sell the idea that simply by knowing what is in your microbiome, you will be on the road to good health. In actuality, science is still unclear whether the microbiome causes disease, or if diseases cause microbiome change. With uBiome’s recent FBI raid initiated by fraudulent insurance billing practices, users should be very cautious in purchasing a uBiome test. Further, while your results will show hundreds of different types of bacteria in your system, uBiome provides few actionable steps to change your microbiome and the results largely embellish scientific understanding of the microbiome.
uBiome Review’s Essential Data
|Can be used for||Gut Microbiome Testing|
|Microbiome Collection Method||Fecal Swab|
|Microbiome Testing Method||A patented combination of 16S gene and Shotgun Metagenomics Sequencing|
|Price||$89 – $199|
|Number of users||>500,000|
|Ownership||Jessica Richman, Zachary Apte, Will Ludington, Numerous Venture Capital Organizations|
|Address||180 Steuart St. #194165
San Francisco, CA, 94103
|Client Reviews||1 of 5 Stars with the Better Business Bureau
“F” rating from the Better Business Bureau
2.4 of 5 Stars on Amazon
Company background for uBiome
uBiome was initially launched after a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, which raised several hundred thousand dollars. The founders, Jessica Richman, Zachary Apte, and Will Ludington were scientists at the Institute for Quantitative Biosciences before starting uBiome. This attracted the attention of venture capitalists, which then fully funded the new venture. By 2015, the company was offering a $1 million grant program to researchers for microbiome sampling and analysis. The company has since received Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification, as well as accreditation from the College of American Pathologists.
However, in April of 2019, the headquarters of uBiome was raided by the FBI on suspicion of insurance fraud. The company had been double and triple charging patients of their clinical test, while at the same time it would try to charge insurance for their at-home microbiome test. The halt of these practices exposed the massive amount of debt the company was in, forcing them to file for bankruptcy. As the company seeks buyers for its assets, it is continuing to sell 1 non-clinical version of its microbiome test – Explorer. Supposedly, the company has found enough money to pay the staff required to offer and maintain these tests, though that may change in the near future when they find a buyer for their patents and processes.
uBiome Offerings Review
uBiome previously had 3 basic offerings. The SmartGut test and the SmartJane tests were both doctor-ordered microbiome tests. The SmartGut test was intended to help diagnose and treat chronic gut conditions, while the SmartJane test was meant to help diagnose and treat vaginal microbiome disorders, such as vaginitis. These two tests have been suspended since the FBI raid in April 2019, likely due to the fact that these tests were part of uBiome’s scheme to overbill insurance companies.
The one test still available to consumers is the Explorer test. Unlike the other two offerings from uBiome, the Explorer test does not require a doctor’s orders. Anyone can order an Explorer test, which can be used on any part of the body you want. Measure your skin microbiome by swabbing areas of your skin, or measure your gut microbiome by sampling your feces. Once your Explorer test has been analyzed by the laboratory, you will be able to access your results on their website or through their phone app. The results will allow you to compare your microbiome to uBiome’s database, and learn about possible reasons for the differences.
The Explorer test is $89 for a one-time test. However, the company also allows you to take multiple tests and compare your results over time. You can subscribe for a monthly test for $72, or you can buy 3 tests upfront for $199. These options are great for people testing out a new diet, changing a lifestyle habit, or taking a new medication. The time-lapse results allow you to see how these changes affect your gut microbiome composition and may help you determine whether these changes were beneficial or detrimental to your health.
What separates between uBiome and other companies in that regard?
The company uses a patented process that includes two commonplace testing methods for microbiome diversity and function. The 16S gene sequencing is an accurate way to find out what types of bacteria are present in your gut. Shotgun Metagenomics Sequencing is then used to determine how active these bacteria are, and what chemical functions they are completing within your gut.
Together, this gives scientists at uBiome a fairly complete picture of what is happening inside your gut. Further, as they were one of the first companies to start collecting microbiome samples, they have one of the largest databases. This does not make their tests and methods the best, but it does provide them with the largest opportunity to find new correlations between the microbiome and health conditions.
How it works, what will your uBiome kit include?
After purchasing your kit with uBiome, you will receive a microbiome testing package in the mail. The kit contains 2 swabs and 2 sample vials, but you will only need 1 of each. The others are backup, in case you accidentally spill the original sample vial fluid. The Explore test allows you to test any area you want, though the gut microbiome is typically tested with a fecal sample.
To obtain a fecal sample, you simply use the swabs provided to obtain a rice-sized amount of feces from your toilet paper after you wipe. You deposit the swab into the sample vial, which contains a small amount of fluid. The fluid is a mixture of different chemicals that stop bacterial growth and preserve the DNA and RNA sequences within the sample as they make their way to the lab. Close the sample vial, place it in the pre-paid envelope, and send it back to uBiome. You should receive your results within a month or so, depending on the volume of kits uBiome is currently processing.
Understanding the results
The results you receive from a uBiome test will include a breakdown of your microbiome by genera. Associations found between the presence and populations of different genera can suggest whether you are at risk for certain conditions. The interactive platform allows you to click on different types of bacteria to learn more about what they do and how they can affect your health.
In the uBiome Learning Center, you can find dozens of conditions that are associated with your microbiome. These conditions include things like cardiovascular disease, stroke, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and even skin health. However, the succinct and easy-to-understand conclusions drawn in the learning center are not always backed by sound science.
For example, within the Dermatitis topic, we tried to follow the studies presented to the evidence that uBiome claims they use to determine whether your microbiome can lead to skin dermatitis. The studies offered some evidence that dermatitis was related to the skin microbiome, but no studies were presented that showed a clear causal link between microbiomes and dermatitis. Several theories abound, but no one knows exactly why or how the microbiome causes dermatitis.
In fact, it could be the opposite – dermatitis could cause a difference in the microbiome, not the other way around. This would mean that dermatitis itself has different causes, and simply manifests as a microbiome disruption.
While the uBiome results will give you plenty to look at and ponder, it likely won’t give you any actionable results.
uBiome and the FBI
In April 2019, uBiome’s offices were raided by the FBI on suspicion of insurance fraud. Apparently, in an effort to boost sales and profits, the company was overcharging and double charging insurance companies for their doctor-ordered tests, SmartGut and SmartJane. For example, when a doctor would order 1 gut microbiome test, uBiome would bill insurance for 2 tests, or overcharge for the test. This lead insurance companies to file complaints against uBiome, which the FBI is still investigating.
The board of uBiome, in light of the FBI allegations, has suspended all of the founders of the company. A restructuring expert was brought in to lead the company through these allegations. So far, the company has suspended its SmartGut and SmartJane microbiome tests. It is unclear whether the company will face formal charges, though it seems likely. Due to these pressures from regulators, creditors, and the public, uBiome filed for bankruptcy in September 2019. The company is seeking to liquidate its assets or its entire business. While it is unknown how long this process could take, the Explorer test is still being offered by a much smaller ‘ghost’ staff. This means that you can purchase an Explorer test, but you probably shouldn’t.
Media coverage and user opinions
The media has not been kind to uBiome, especially since the FBI raided its offices. Most of the media coverage surrounding uBiome covers this aspect, while many other stories cover the questionable benefits of testing your microbiome. However, it should be noted that uBiome recently struck a partnership with cosmetics giant L’Oreal, suggesting that their business is far from defunct and will continue to offer microbiome testing through their legal troubles, even if they are eventually purchased by a larger company.
- PRNewswire – uBiome Files Voluntary Chapter 11 Petitions to Accelerate an Orderly and Efficient Sale Process
- STAT – Troubled microbiome startup uBiome to lay off some employees, refund payments from federal insurers
- Becker’s Health – 7 updates on the ongoing uBiome investigation
- Forbes – New UBiome CEO Is Longtime Restructuring Expert Who Previously Worked With Failed Drone Startup Lily Robotics
- Wall Street Journal – Some Smiling Faces in Online Customer Testimonials Are Stock Photos
- PRNewswire – L’Oréal Announces Partnership With Microbial Genomics Leader uBiome To Advance New Research Into The Skin Microbiome
uBiome does not have great support from its customers. In fact, the company received an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau, which relates to its improper billing practices and customer complaints.
- 1 of 5 stars – Better Business Bureau Reviews (16 total)
- 2.4 of 5 stars – Amazon (11 total)
Users who are happy with uBiome mentioned the following points:
- The test allows you to test multiple points in time, to observe your microbiome through a lifestyle change.
- Customers appreciated the easy-to-use sampling kit
- The kit can give you insights into many ways your microbiome functions
Users giving uBiome a 1-star review mentioned the following worthy points:
- Insurance fraud – many customers have complained that their insurance was billed, even though they ordered the Explorer test, not related to a doctor or healthcare services.
- Results are “virtually impossible to understand,” as one Amazon reviewer put it.
- Your “results” simply show what bacteria are in your system, but provide almost no information on what these bacteria do or how they affect you.
- Interpreting the results without a gastroenterologist is really hard.
- Several consumers reported that their results were never processed or posted.
uBiome Review: Executive Summary
Bottom Line Conclusion for this uBiome Review
The potential for microbiome testing is huge. However, uBiome is currently not living up to the hype. It may be that they simply got way too far ahead of themselves, but it seems that the company has a culture of fraudulent activities. The number of customers complaining that uBiome charged their insurance is disturbing. Many customers of the Explore test, meant for consumers without a doctor, also had to deal with thousands of dollars of fraudulent insurance claims by the company.
If you are a microbiome expert and want to do citizen science pertaining to your own microbiome, the company is one of the only choices that offer time-lapse testing. However, users beware! The company has fraudulent billing practices, poor leadership, and a “wild-west” attitude towards microbiome testing. They are currently offering their Explorer tests in the thralls of bankruptcy, and soon may no longer be a company at all.