Our bodies are covered in a sea of microbes. Everywhere we go, they follow us like a shadow. This unique “microbial cloud” every person emits is custom-made: distinctive enough that it can be used to identify people, a new study finds.
Microbes and The Human Microbiome
Trillions of microorganisms live on or in the human body. In fact, skin cells, farts and burps are all part of what scientists call the human microbiome.
“A lot of the recent work on the human microbiome has revealed that we’re kind of spilling our microbial companions all over our houses and our offices and the people around us,” Meadow told NPR. The findings from Meadow and his colleagues were published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
Humans possess a unique ‘microbial cloud signature’
To assess whether or not a cloud of bacteria could be traced back to an individual, the researchers asked 11 volunteers to sit in sanitized chambers filled with filtered air.
After a series of experiments, researchers found that the resulting cocktails of bacteria are unique to every individual with regard to both quantity and quality. Researchers were surprised to find that they could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud.
“Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one,” the authors concluded.
Microbial “fingerprint”: Is bacteria good or bad?
This is not the first time researchers have looked into how the human microbiome is spread in the surrounding environment. Microbiologist Jonathan Eisen shared his viewpoints about microbes at a TEDMED talk, where he explained how our body is constantly being colonized by both the pathogens that make us sick and the “good” microbes (which we know less about) that might be keeping us healthy.
Similarly, the Home Microbiome Project, led by Jack Gilbert, examined the microbial map of seven healthy families to reveal that some bacteria in our environment positively affects us in numerous ways.