No matter where you go and what you’re doing, each of us has a unique aura, or cloud, of bacteria, cell parts, hair and feces that is truly unique.
Study the cloud
While the internal microbiome is a thriving microscopic community that breaks down food and helps the body fight disease each of us has an external microbiome, a cloud if you will, that is a veritable cornucopia community of creatures living on the surface of your skin. “In a single centimeter of skin, you can find thousands of bacteria,” says James Meadow, a former University of Oregon researcher and co-author of a paper published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
In fact, while your DNA determines who you are, the DNA of “non-you” cells is dominate if one were to study the DNA on and around. The “non-you” microbes in a given sample would represent about 98% of the DNA in your microbe cloud. The microbiome cloud is caused by the body releasing these creatures through a variety of physical activities such as coughing, burping or farting. “If I scratch my head, thousands of skin cells, cell fragments, bacteria, and fungi get airborne,” says Meadow.
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That is a pleasant way of looking at this release. A bit nastier explanation of our clouds came when Meadow quoted a colleague as saying, “The world is covered in a fine patina of feces.”
The cloud experiments
Meadow and his co-authors looking to determine if your cloud was unique to you devised two experiments to see if this was traceable to an individual with the help of a sterilized room. For the first experiment participants were placed in a sterile room and asked to work on a laptop for four hours while air filters trapped released microbes and trays were placed on the ground to collect settled particles of hair and skin. These trays and filters were then collected before scientists used chemicals to get rid of everything but the DNA contained in the samples.
The second experiment also used sterile rooms and laptops but participants were only asked to use a laptop for 90 minutes and only ground screens were employed.
“If you are close enough to shake hands with someone, you are in their microbial cloud,” says Meadow. “When someone walks by and you feel breeze, that’s taking your bacteria with them.”
Suffice is to say, your cloud is made up of the clouds of others as well.
Practical cloud applications
Potentially, these studies of microbiome clouds could help doctors determine what is causing an outbreak of disease or germs in a hospital or help police in forensic investigations. Meadows left Oregon State University to join a San Francisco-based biotech firm that wants to use cloud tracking to stop things like MRSA outbreaks in hospitals according to Wired.
Essentially, in a few years time and with a large database, your cloud could single you out as a “patient zero” or the murderer in a homicide investigation.