Remember the Peanuts character Pigpen? I always thought that cloud of dust surrounding him was disgusting. Come to find out, Pigpen is not alone.
Scientists say we all emit a “microbial cloud” of bacteria. That’s right, germaphobes. We all have our very own invisible cloud of dead skin, microbes and fungus surrounding us, according to a new study published in the journal PeerJ Tuesday.
And every day, we release millions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies into the air around us. “We give off a million biological particles from our body every hour as we move around. I have a beard; when I scratch it, I’m releasing a little plume into the air. It’s just this cloud of particles we’re always giving off, that happens to be nearly invisible,” study author James Meadow of the University of Oregon told Newsweek.
It has been known for a long time that humans host mainly helpful microbes on the skin and in the gastrointestinal tract. This colony of organisms is referred to by scientists as the “microbiome.” But now, the University of Oregon study claims the microbiome exists in a sort of fog around the person.
The study found that air samples could even identify which individual had left a room based on the makeup of his or her particular cloud of bacteria, according to Chicago Tribune. Meadow said in a news release from the journal that the researchers expected 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.”
Meadow and his researchers looked at the air surrounding 11 people while they were placed in a sanitized, sealed chamber, VOA reports. They found that the presence of a person could be sequenced and identified based on the cloud of bacteria left behind just four hours after he or she had left the chamber.
“Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one,” Meadows said.
The team of researchers also said that different combinations of many groups of common bacteria found on and in people are the secret in identifying individuals. They added that skin germs like Corynebacterium and Propionibacterium and Streptococcus–commonly found in the mouth–were important species.
These findings could shed some light on how diseases are spread in buildings or offer a new identification method–a fingerprint of sorts. However, these things are probably a long way off.