We’re All Sitting in Clouds of Bacteria

Kate Horowitz

Remember Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen? Charles Schulz’s depiction of a kid living in a cloud of his own filth seemed, well, comic, but the truth isn’t too far off. Scientists say that each one of us moves through the world surrounded by an invisible fog of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Yes, even you. 

This mildly unsettling research comes to us courtesy of the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon, where microbiologists like Roxana Hickey and Jessica Green spend their days collecting and analyzing people’s personal atmospheres. Those atmospheres, they say, are far from static. Our microbiomes are constantly interacting with the world around us as we scratch our noses, fart, inhale, or even sit perfectly still. 

In this new video from Science Friday, Hickey and Green explain how—and why—they capture the Pigpen-like clouds of their test subjects.