Germophobes, you may not want to read this one. A new study finds that people are surrounded by individual clouds of bacteria. Yes, we’re all Pig-Pen, our every move shadowed by an airborne microbiome filled with bacteria sloughed from the skin, gut, vagina, and more.
Researchers write in the journal PeerJ that people “shed a detectable bacterial cloud” indoors, emitting some 1 million biological particles an hour. The researchers put people in a sealed room in a lab in Portland, Oregon, seating them under an array of air filters. In a follow-up test, the air filters were eliminated in favor of Petri dishes set out on the floor to collect errant microbes. The participants sat in the room for between 90 minutes and four hours during the two different experiments, after which the researchers tested the air to see what bacteria they left behind.
Image Credit: Viputheshwar Sitaraman// Draw Science
They found that people did, in fact, introduce a host of new bacteria into the air that hadn’t been present before. These thousands of bacteria types were associated with human mucus, skin, the gut (hello, farts!), and, in one instance, with fermented food. These bacteria were unique enough that the researchers could tell the difference between the 11 different participants based on the type of bacteria collected. (The only woman tested immediately stuck out because she emitted a bacteria commonly found in healthy vaginas.) People released bacteria at different rates, too, creating a kind of microbial signature. Certain patterns of bacteria can already be used to identify individuals in a population, so this is just another way your microbiome might function as the grossest kind of fingerprint.
No one is safe. No one is clean. We are all surrounded by fart particles always.