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The Microbiome


The microbiome is a term used to describe all of the microbes, like bacteria, parasites, and viruses, that live in and on the human body. Our study focuses on the gut microbiome, which is the community of microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract.



Immigrant Microbiome Project

healthy guts, healthy world

Exploring how westernization affects the gut microbiome and health

The Microbiome


The microbiome is defined as the community of all microbes (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi) that live in and on the human body. Our study focuses on the gut microbiome, which are the microbes resident in the human gastrointestinal tract. 


The gut microbiome is essential for: 

  • immune system development

  • metabolism (e.g. break down of dietary fibers)

  • protection against pathogens

  • and many other functions


Your microbiome develops from the day you are born and reaches maturity around age

3 to 4.

Host genetics and external factors (diet, antibiotics, the environment, etc.) drives changes in your gut microbiome.

As a result, people from very different parts of the world have very different gut microbiomes.

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Our Research Study

We are interested in determining how the gut microbiome changes with migration between drastically different environments, and how these changes may contribute to changes in health. In our study, we will answer the following questions:


  • How quickly does the microbiome adapt after migration?

  • Can we find microbes that correlate with obesity?

  • Are these microbiome changes preserved over generations?

  • Does dietary fiber preserve the native gut microbiome?


By studying the following four groups:

New arrivals

Long-term resident foreign-born

   migrated > 2 yrs old    migrated < 2 yrs old

American-born (2nd generation)

Pre-immigration gut microbiomes

Western gut microbiomes

Our Criteria

Hmong or Karen

Participants must be of Hmong or Karen ethnicity from Southeast Asia. To control for genetics and country of origin, we currently only support these two communities, and have plans to add more communities in the future.

1st or 2nd generation

Participants must have been born in Southeast Asia (first generation) or if born in the US, both parents must have been born in Southeast Asia (second generation). 


Participants must be female. There are differences between gut microbiomes from men and women, and since more Hmong women are migrating from Southeast Asia than men in recent years, we have limited our study to women. We will expand our study to include men in the future.

18 to 65 years old

Participants must be adults and no older than 65 years old in order to participate.


Participants should not be suffering from any gastrointestinal diseases, autoimmune diseases, or cancers.

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This research is funded by grants from the UMN Clinical and Translational Science Institute, UMN Institute on Diversity, Equity and Advocacy, UMN Healthy Foods Healthy Lives Institute, and the UMN Graduate School.


The IMP logo was designed by Annie Au.

Icons used throughout this website have been designed by Freepik.

Join our study!

We would like to invite you to participate in a research study that determines the microbiome of Hmong and Karen women and its relationship to obesity risk. To participate, we will ask you to donate a single stool sample (1 gram), get your weight, height, and waist measured, and participate in a 15-minute in-person interview. In compensation for your time and efforts, you will receive a $25 pre-paid credit card.


Any Hmong or Karen woman who has arrived in the last two months can enroll in a 6-month study where they will donate 6 stool samples (1 per month) and take a 15-minute survey 6 times (1 per month). In compensation for their time and efforts, they will receive up to $200 in pre-paid credit cards. 


To participate, please contact:

Bwei Paw

(651) 210-4393

Mary Xiong

(651) 285-5130

Meet Our Team

Dan Knights, PhD

Principal Investigator

Dan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Biotechnology Intstitute at the University of Minnesota. His lab specializes in ways to best study the trillions of microbes that live in and on our bodies.

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Pajau Vangay, MS


Pajau is a Ph.D. student in the Knights lab at the University of Minnesota. She has M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Food Microbiology, and her research lies at the intersection of health, microbiome, health disparities, and food/nutrition. Specifically, she is interested in modeling the effects of how the microbiome responds to environmental perturbations.

Rodolfo Batres, MD

Project Coordinator, CBPAR Specialist

Rodolfo is a medical doctor from El Salvador who has worked as a researcher with SoLaHmo since 2014.  He is participating in various community-based participatory action research projects. His research interests are broad, but have the common goal of improving the health and wellness of Minnesotans, particularly within the Latino community.

Bwei Paw

Community Researcher

Bwei Paw has had previous experience as a nurse, health worker, and medical educator in Thailand where he worked with Burmese migrants. Bwei currently is a staff member at Neighborhood House, where he helps new Karen refugee families get settled in the Twin Cities. He is interested in health and community education, particularly with the Karen.



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Kathleen Culhane-Pera, MD, MA

Principal Investigator

Kathie is a family physician and medical anthropologist who has worked with Hmong and inner city residents of St Paul, Minnesota since 1983 and with SoLaHmo on community-based participatory action research projects since it’s inception in 2009. She is co-editor of Healing by Heart: Clinical and Ethical Case Stories of Hmong Families and Western Clinicians.

Shannon Pergament, MSW, MPH

Project Coordinator, CBPAR Specialist

Shannon is Co-Director of Community Based Research at West Side Community Health Services, Inc. (West Side) and is a founding member of the Somali, Latino and Hmong Partnership for Health and Wellness (SoLaHmo), a community driven translational research program of West Side.


Mary Xiong

Community Researcher

Mary is a Hmong community organizer who is passionate about health equity. She enjoys working and providing community health education and outreach to all communities. She has lead the Hmong MN Pageant Committee as Chair since 2014, Vice-Chair for the Hmong Health Care Professional Coalition 2015-2016, and has worked with SoLaHmo's community-based participatory action research project as a community researcher. Currently, she is the Program Manager for Planned Parenthood MN ND SD's EHDI Hmong programs working with Hmong youth and parents in Minnesota.

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Study Resources

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Frequently asked questions


I was born in Laos and I have lived in the US for 45 years, do I qualify?

Yes, as long as you meet our age requirements (18 - 65 yrs old) you can participate.


I was born in France/Australia/(some other country not in Southeast Asia), do I qualify?

No, unfortunately we are controlling for region of origin and are only looking at those from Southeast Asia.


I thought your study was only recruiting newly arrived Hmong and Karen?

We started the project recruiting only new arrivals, but we have expanded the study.


Isn't diet a huge factor? Are you controlling for that somehow?

As part of our survey, we will be doing a 24-hr dietary recall in order to analyze how diet changes with residency in the US.


I was born in the US and my parents were also born in the US, can I participate?

No. Unfortunately we're only looking at the 2nd generation. We hope to include more generations in the future.


How much is 1 gram of stool?

It depends on the consistency of the stool but in general, roughly the size of a few grains of rice.

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