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Microbes Invade in Just 24 Hours

Aug 29, 2014 06:24 PM EDT
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You may not know it, but you are the ultimate moving van for microbial life. Researchers have recently found that it takes a mere 24 hours for microbes to spread from you to your current place of residence, making your new digs just like your old home - at least by microbial standards.

Experts have been investigating the effects microbial life have on our everyday lives for a long time. Now new results, as part of the Home Microbiome Study, has found that millions of microbes quickly invade anywhere we touch, exchanging between people, locations, and even furniture.

Jack Gilbert, who leads the work, even recently told New Scientist that there are so many microbes on and in the human body that they actually make us physically heavier.

In their latest work, Gilbert and his team mapped the microbial signature of seven families, three of which were due to move to a new home at the start of the study. Eighteen people from these families were regularly swabbed for microbes. Doors knobs, floors, and kitchen surfaces were also swabbed for a period of about two months.

The results were recently published in the journal Science.

By using complex and next-generation DNA sequencing techniques, the team was able to isolate more than 21,000 different microbial species. Interestingly, each family had its own distinct microbial ecosystem - a system that would tag alone wherever they went leaving a distinct "signature" the researchers could trace. O course, everyday contact outside of home did not leave a full signature, but even just a day of contact was enough to stamp that ecosystem firmly in a new location.

For the three moving families, the research team found that it took a mere three hours for their hitchhiking microbes to swamp a hotel room, and less than 24 hours for the full signature to become clear.

According to the authors of the study, research like this could prove particularly useful in tracking human interaction, especially an urban environment without its own natural microbiome.

In just one building, for instance, microbial signatures could help "tell how many individuals live there, and the relationship between them," Gilbert said.

He adds that the potential for this kind of work in forensic policing is undeniable.

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