It's a Jungle on There: Skin Samples Contain Rich Diversity of Bacteria: Inventory Identifies Body's Most Microbe-Varied Locales

By Saey, Tina Hesman | Science News, December 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

It's a Jungle on There: Skin Samples Contain Rich Diversity of Bacteria: Inventory Identifies Body's Most Microbe-Varied Locales


Saey, Tina Hesman, Science News


PHILADELPHIA -- Most people think of rain forests as hot spots for biological diversity, but new research suggests that belly buttons are also rich ecosystems. That's one finding from the first attempt to take a large-scale inventory of microbes on human skin.

In recent years scientists have come to appreciate people as super organisms, composed not just of human tissue, but also of microbes galore. Human skin is covered by a variety of bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites, says Elizabeth Grice of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. Most of the time, people and their microbes live in harmony, but people with skin conditions such as eczema often struggle with skin infections.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"The skin is two square meters of ecosystem," Grice said November 13 at a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

Grice presented work she and her colleagues have done to catalog the diversity of bacteria living on human skin. The findings could help doctors and scientists better understand why some people develop skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis while others with similar genetic backgrounds do not.

"We know there is a genetic component" to eczema, says Kimberly Chapman of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the research. Some people with eczema have a defect in filaggrin, a protein that helps form the skin's protective barrier. But not everyone who has the filaggrin variation will get eczema. …

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