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New research finds that people emit their own personal microbial cloud

We each give off millions of bacteria from our human microbiome to the air around us every day, and that cloud of bacteria can be traced back to an individual. New research focused on the personal microbial cloud – the airborne microbes we emit into the air – examined the microbial connection we have with the air around us. The findings demonstrate the extent to which humans possess a unique ‘microbial cloud signature’.

To test the individualized nature of the personal microbial cloud, University of Oregon researchers sequenced microbes from the air surrounding 11 different people in a sanitized experimental chamber. The study found that most of the occupants sitting alone in the chamber could be identified within 4 hours just by the unique combinations of bacteria in the surrounding air. The findings appear in the September 22 issue of the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

The striking results were driven by several groups of bacteria that are ubiquitous on and in humans, such as Streptococcus, which is commonly found in the mouth, and Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium, both common skin residents. While these common human-associated microbes were detected in the air around all people in the study, the authors found that the different combinations of those bacteria were the key to distinguishing among individual people.

Infographic demonstrating research
New research focused on the personal microbial cloud – the airborne microbes we emit into the air – examined the microbial connection we have with the air around us
Credit: PeerJ