We’re Surrounded with Personal Cloud of Microbes

Posted September 22nd, 2015 at 7:55 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

(Viputheshwar Sitaraman/Draw Science)

(Viputheshwar Sitaraman/Draw Science)

Just like ‘Pig Pen’, the character from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon, who walks in a cloud of dust, each of us is surrounded by our very own personal cloud of microbes.

Every day we all release millions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies into the air around us, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Oregon.

The researchers gathered 11 test subjects, put them in a germ-free compartment and then collected 312 samples of the air surrounding them.

They also gathered air samples from unoccupied compartments as well.

After sequencing the DNA of the bacteria contained within the air samples, the researchers found that they could identify most of the 11 test subjects in only four hours just by a distinctive combination of microbes in the air.

The scientists were able to detect the presence of commonly carried strains of bacteria such as Streptococcus, Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium around all of the test subjects.  But they found that each of their subjects gave off different combinations of the bacteria that made the individual’s “microbial cloud” unique.

“We expected that we would be able to detect the human microbiome in the air around a person, but we were surprised to find that we could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud,” said lead author James F. Meadow, in a press release.

The researchers said that their study revealed a distinct difference in the samples taken from the compartments occupied by the test subjects and those from an unoccupied unit.

The findings were published in the September 22, 2015 edition of the journal PeerJ.

The researchers believe that their findings could provide insight and an understanding of the mechanics behind the spread of contagious disease within buildings or other closed spaces.

They also say that the methods used to make their findings could be used some day in forensic studies.  For example, investigators might be able to learn the identity those who were at specific location or determine if a suspect had been at the scene of a crime he or she is accused of.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

One response to “We’re Surrounded with Personal Cloud of Microbes”

  1. Cranksy says:

    Is this at all related to cows causing global warming?