If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume that you are next to someone, or in the vicinity of someone. Now, look at them, very carefully. Be sure not to stare, that’s rude, but in measured glances, look at them. What do you see? Probably nothing, a face, with a nose, and a mouth, maybe a beard, or a woman with crazy eyebrows, or those glasses that have a plastic nose and a fake mustache. In that case, get away from that person, because they are clearly a serial killer. But for all others, realize that the individual is enveloped in a nimbus of their own filth, a fetid cloud of their own bespoke, uncommon, microscopic microorganisms and juices that follows them everywhere, and glides with them, getting stuck on objects, chairs, things you own, even you. Especially you.
According to a new study published in the journal PeerJ, as it turns out, every human has an assortment of microorganisms -that includes bacteria, viruses, fungi- residing in and around our body. This bunch of microorganisms clusters to make up what scientists call our microbiome.
Humans typically spread these microbes through touch and lending objects to other people. “A lot of the recent work on the human microbiome has revealed that we’re kind of spilling our microbial companions all over our houses and our offices and the people around us,” says James Meadows. Meadows is a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon who spearheaded the study.
Meadows and his team, however, went one step further in their analysis and attempted to find out if humans were releasing these microbes into the air. His team took 11 volunteers and placed them in individual booths for four hours while they studied the air.
The researchers found that each not only released bacteria and microorganisms in the air, but that each participant rested in a unique cloud that followed them. These one-of-a-kind clouds also revealed characteristics of the individual, including if the person was a man or a woman.
“The results really surprised us. More importantly, we found that each person is unique in two respects,” said Meadows. “We each give off different amounts of bacteria to the air around us [and] we each give off a slightly different cocktail of those bacteria. There are just really subtle differences.”
The findings are exciting for a number of reasons, and Meadows posits that the research and the discovery of the microbial cloud could even help aid crime investigations, with law enforcement teams able to determine who was at a particular crime scene based on the microbes left behind. “There are a lot of reasons why we might want to know if some nefarious character’s been in a certain room in the last few hours. Maybe there’s a way to use microbes for that,” mused Meadows.
Rob Knight, a microbiome researcher at the University of California, San Diego added more insight into the newly announced research. He said that “we know that if you live with people, and even if you just work with people, your microbial communities come to resemble theirs over time.” He continued, “And in the past we used to think that was due to touch. It may be just that you’re releasing microbes into the air and some of those microbes are colonizing the people you’re with.”
Knight also said that further research of microbiomes could also reveal the locations you have visited and who you have been in contact with. So if you turn off location services on your apps and refuse to tag anyone in social media posts, the joke is on you, your body has been doing that all along. Now get your microbiome out of here, it’s clouding up everyone’s vision.