Every time you interact with someone, you come into contact with the thousands of tiny microbes that inhabit her bacterial universe.
It’s like trespassing on private microscopic territory—it’s that personal.
Scientists used to think that our microbial ecosystems intermingled only through touch, but now a team led by James Meadow at the University of Oregon has discovered that we eject millions of microorganisms from our bodies into the air around us. The rate at which we do so depends on how often we scratch or fidget, and the composition of each person’s microbial radius is slightly different.
Meadow and his colleagues published their findings in the journal PeerJ, where they explain that they analyzed DNA from bacteria in the air surrounding 11 healthy volunteers in their 20s and 30s as they sat in a closed booth for four hours. The researchers found that the volunteers each had a signature “stew” of bacteria that filled the space around where they sat.
Here’s Rob Stein, reporting for NPR:
Meadow says the findings raise a number of possibilities, including, maybe, one day being able to identify a criminal by analyzing the microbial cloud he or she leaves behind at the scene.
“There are a lot of reasons why we might want to know if some nefarious character’s been in a certain room in the last few hours,” Meadow says. “Maybe there’s a way to use microbes for that.”
The research could also help scientists understand how microbial communities are built—in homes, workplaces, and even hospitals. The microbiome’s expanded atmospheric presence makes future research in the field even more dazzlingly complicated.