MAY 18, 2016 12:09 PM PDT

The Microbiome of Skin Stays Stable Over Time

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch
Human skin has a habitat that is conducive to hosting a veritable microcosm of organisms. Fungi, bacteria and viruses are all part of the microbial communities residing on our epidermis; most of them are harmless or actually beneficial to us. A new study is revealing more details about the microbiome of the skin, how it changes and how those changes can impact human health.
Individual differences and the environment shape the structural and functional composition of the human skin microbiome.
Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute and Heidi Kong of the National Cancer Institute, who are among the authors of the study, have found that fungal, bacterial and viral communities have a strong proclivity for occupying specific skin sites. These communities also function as microbial fingerprints that are distinct and unique to individuals. They further expanded the scope of this work by examining the stability of skin microbial communities over time. Skin samples were taken from twelve healthy individuals on three successive time points, ranging from one month to two years, and they then carried out metagenomic shotgun sequencing on 17 different skin sites.

Interestingly, the microbiomes of skin remained very stable over time, regardless of all the exposure and disruptions to our skin stemming from typical interactions like routine contact with other people, wearing our clothing, and interacting with the environment. Instead of acquiring microbes from the surroundings people reside in, they retained their personal microbial signatures. However, the stability of skin microbiomes did vary across both individuals and microbial strains; some showed more alterations and modifications than others.
17 selected skin sites and their location on the human body. Sites represent four microenvironments: sebaceous (green), dry (blue), moist (red), foot (black). For all sites, boxplots calculate similarity between samples in the time series, aggregated by the skin site characteristic. ‘Long' indicates > 1 year between samplings; ‘Short' averages a month.'Interpersonal' values show the average distance between individuals. Black lines indicate median, boxes show first and third quartiles. Panels are color coded by site characteristic.
Certain parts of the body showed a higher degree of variation in their microbial communities than others did. Oily skin sites like the auditory canal or back had the most stable microbiomes but even dry, highly exposed sites like the palm of the hand, showed incredible stability over time. However, sites with large amounts of diversity in their microbial communities were also the least stable, suggesting factors like personal hygiene or variable environments could play a role in that steadiness.

This study unfortunately only focused on a small number of healthy adults. The scope of the study can be expanded to more individuals and also to include adults with skin disorders like eczema. "Future studies can use the knowledge of the relative stability of the skin microbial communities in healthy adults to understand how various exposures or disease state may alter these skin microbes," Segre says. "For example, studies in acne patients could explore whether specific strains bloom during adolescent acne flares or change with medications such as antibiotics."
 
Source: Cell, AAAS
 
About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
FEB 17, 2021
Microbiology
A Microbial Cable That Uses Electricity to Live
FEB 17, 2021
A Microbial Cable That Uses Electricity to Live
There are species of bacteria that grow into centimeters-long colonies that have a cable shape and share a common coat. ...
FEB 24, 2021
Microbiology
The Human Gut Microbiome is Teeming With Viruses
FEB 24, 2021
The Human Gut Microbiome is Teeming With Viruses
Using metagenomics tools, which sequence all of the viral material in a sample, researchers have investigated the viruse ...
MAR 18, 2021
Neuroscience
Pregnancy Alters the Stress Response in Surprising Ways
MAR 18, 2021
Pregnancy Alters the Stress Response in Surprising Ways
Researchers from Ohio State University have found that the stress response works in unexpected ways in pregnant mice. Th ...
APR 16, 2021
Microbiology
A New Kind of COVID-19 Vaccine
APR 16, 2021
A New Kind of COVID-19 Vaccine
The current COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Modern are based on messenger RNA, which cells use to make proteins ...
APR 30, 2021
Coronavirus
J&J COVID-19 Vaccine Reaction Clusters Caused by Anxiety
APR 30, 2021
J&J COVID-19 Vaccine Reaction Clusters Caused by Anxiety
Vaccinating as many people as possible will be one of several efforts that will be needed to halt the progression of the ...
MAY 07, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Did Scientists Just Find Mushrooms on Mars?
MAY 07, 2021
Did Scientists Just Find Mushrooms on Mars?
While experts agree that most life on Earth would not be able to survive on Mars, NASA researchers have previously sugge ...
Loading Comments...