Humans are indeed surrounded by a mysterious aura, but it’s not the etherial glow that spiritualists claim. Instead, researchers have discovered exactly what surrounds us – and how it can identify us – in our own personal microbial cloud, an unexpected bacterial fingerprint.
The study, carried out by a University of Oregon team led by James Meadow, found that while everybody is surrounded by invisible clouds of Streptococcus – usually found in the mouth – along with skin-borne Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium, the exact proportions of each were more personal.
In fact, the mixture turned out to be highly identifiable. Meadow and his team sequenced the microbes from eleven people, put them individually into a sanitized room, and after four hours tried to figure out which person had been there by bacterial mix alone.
According to Meadow, “most of the occupants” could be differentiated.
“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,” he said of the findings. “Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.”
While differentiation of specific people would demand assessment of their own microbiomes, one possible offshoot is the more general classification of things like gender.
Meadow went on to join Phylogen, a company which specializes in indoor microbiome health. He sees broader implications for better understanding of microbiomes, including smarter building design to minimize the spread of infection – by adjusting ventilation, perhaps, in areas of particular build-up – and even in security.
For instance, with improvements in accuracy, tracking microbiomes could allow for invisible security systems to monitor exactly who was entering a building.