A group of New York gastroenterologists are trying to unlock the mysteries of the microbiome, but first they need your poop.

Bacteria vastly outnumber human cells in your body, but medical science has only just begun to understand how they behave and how we might harness their power to treat diseases.

Dr. Arun Swaminath, the director of Lenox Hill Hospital's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, is one of a group of seven physicians across the city who are studying patients with inflammatory bowel disease to learn more about the ecosystems of the gut. "It's new and hot right now to talk about bacteria," Dr. Swaminath says.

"Basically, we're all sterile in the womb, and then we get colonized by our mother’s bacteria. As we get older, the bacteria change. There are trillions of bacterial cells per cubic centimeter in the large intestine; bacteria in our gut play a role, we're just trying to elucidate what kind of role they play."

Dr. Swaminath's patients with Crohn's disease are sometimes treated with antibiotics. "Once I stop the antibiotics, within two weeks, the toehold bacteria are back. So I briefly interrupted the bacteria, but for three months, the patient feels much better." Dr. Swaminath says, "We don't know exactly what's happening here."

The longitudinal study involves more than 25 patients across several New York City academic medical centers. "We're all just regular doctors, and we see patients, and that's our full-time job," Dr. Swaminath says of the other doctors in the study. All of them are participating on their own time.

"We all sat down at my kitchen table and talked about the things we were passionate about, not just ways to prescribe certain therapies, but how to get people to figure out what the right treatment is."

Dr. Julian Abrams, a gastroenterologist at Columbia, says that Dr. Swaminath's research is coming at a crucial moment. "Now that we have the technology and the computing speed has progressed exponentially over the last ten to fifteen years, all of a sudden we're able to look at the microbiome and we're finding all these amazing things going on.

"We know bacteria are important in terms of whether or not you get certain diseases and how these diseases behave once you have them, but to really understand this we need to understand what's normal," says Dr. Abrams, who is unaffiliated with the study.

"No one knows what a good, healthy microbiome really looks like, and to do so you need the help of otherwise healthy volunteers."

But procuring fresh poop isn't as easy. "There's no way to go online and say, 'I need stool from 100 healthy people to do research on this thing,'" Dr. Swaminath laughs. "It's an exciting time, people are taking probiotics, they're going to health coaches, and all that is nice, but we're trying to determine what it is you can do that will actually matter, and what you can use specifically to make you healthier."

Donating your stool to science is easy. If you're healthy, interested, (and not taking any medication), send an email to poopvolunteers@gmail.com.

Dr. Swaminath adds, "If you want to help us push this field forward, how about donating some of your stool?"