New research shows every human gives off a personalised microbial cloud

23 Sep 2015

People give off individually distinct microbial clouds, making it possible for a person to be identified from the unique combinations of bacteria they exude, according to a new research paper from the University of Oregon .

The research sought to discover more about how bacteria are spread between people. Examining common bacteria such as Streptococcus, Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium, researchers discovered that different combinations of these bacteria enabled the identification of individuals.

“We expected that we would be able to detect the human microbiome in the air around a person, but we were surprised to find that we could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud,” said lead author James F Meadow when speaking to EurekAlert.

According to the paper, the research team used 16S rRNA sequencing to characterise the airborne microbial contributions of 11 people, comparing each sample to the air from an unoccupied room, and to each other.

Most people could be correctly identified by their microbial emissions within four hours.

While this research may sound like knowledge for the sake of knowledge, the results have broader applications.

It could help us to understand how infectious diseases spread within buildings, and may also have forensic applications, enabling the tracking of where a person has been.

It is not yet clear if an individual microbial signature can be traced in crowds.

Main image via Shutterstock

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic