Scientists discover greater skin bacteria diversity

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Soap, deodorant and antibacterial developers will be intrigued to know that US scientists have discovered a greater variety of skin bacteria than previously documented.

Scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Cancer Institute and the NIH Clinical Center combined forces to determine the balance between human cells and the bacteria and microbes on the skin’s surface.

In determining this, the researchers were hoping to draw conclusions between the amounts of skin bacteria and microbes and human health – a factor that could have a bearing on the future development of effective anti-bacterial and medicinal skin care products.

Location of skin bacteria crucial factor

Indeed, the researchers say that the location of the bacteria on the body has the greatest influence on its diversity, with the bacteria found under armpits singled out as being particularly distinguishable from other areas of the body.

“Our work has laid an essential foundation for researchers who are working to develop new and better strategies for treating and preventing skin diseases,”​ said Julie Segre, of the National Genome Research Institute.

Speaking of the data generated from the study, Segre added, “We hope this will speed efforts to understand the complex genetic and environmental factors involved in eczema, psoriasis, acne, antibiotic resistance and many other disorders affecting the skin.”

DNA extracted from samples

The study involved taking skin samples from 20 sites on the bodies of ten healthy volunteers, correlating to specific dermatological orders.

The researchers then extracted DNA from each sample and sequenced the gene 16S ribosomal RNA, which is specific to skin bacteria.

From this the researchers said they identified 112,000 bacterial gene sequences, belonging to 19 different phyla and 205 different genera – a diversity that was far greater at the species level than ever previously known.

The researchers then tried to determine how skin bacteria in healthy people differs according to the location on the body - discovering the most diversity on the forearm and the least behind the ear.

Bacteria population determined by skin type

Likewise, the researchers also discovered that dry and moist skin had a broader variety of microbes than oily skin, the latter containing the most uniform mix of microbes.

In concluding the results of the research, the scientists say that the vast variety of bacteria contained on the skin’s surface can have a crucial effect on both skin health and even overall health.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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