Ever wondered where bacteria and chemicals lurk on your skin? New 3-D maps show where human hotspots are—and they're not all where you'd expect

By By the editors of Shape.com
Updated: November 27, 2017
Corbis Images

Bacteria are everywhere, from our heads to our toes to,well, other places. We all know this, but because the microbes are so tiny, we can't actually see them-which means we don't really need to think about them, right? Wrong. Thanks to new 3-D bacterial maps of the human body, we can see exactly which parts of us germs love the most.

Looking at the bacterial maps isn't just for entertainment (although it is oddly fascinating!)-the researchers, based out of the University of California in San Diego, say that the maps reveal critical information about a person, including what kind of food they eat, medicines they take, and any body products they use. And the researchers say they can use this information to tailor health programs based on individual needs.

"It's well known that these microbial communities have an impact on health and disease, so we have an opportunity to think about precision medicine," said Pieter Dorrestein, professor of pharmacology and lead author of the study, in an interview with CNN.

Another interesting finding was that even though the volunteers were told not to wash or use any products for three days, the researchers still found residue from beauty items. In fact, fourteen percent of all the molecules identified were from things like shampoo and deodorant. (Apparently, that moisturizer that says it works for days is telling the truth!) Sunscreen chemicals were found in high amounts around the neck, even though the volunteers hadn't used any in the three days before the scan. Weirdly, the researchers are unsure why chemicals would still be in the neck area while none showed up in the places the sunscreen was most applied, like the face and hands.

But the most interesting findings were where certain types of bacteria and chemicals congregated. For example, the part of your body that has the highest concentration of microbes is not your mouth or even your bum (admit it, that was your first guess)-it's your feet! The scientists say it's the combination of exposure to the environment, darkness and dampness.

And propionibacterium, the bugs that cause those deep, painful zits, were found not only on the face but also all over the head and upper back. Ouch! (Try these Alternative Adult Acne Treatments.)

By the way, bacteria aren't just one microorganism, even though we often think of them all together. The study found over 850 different strains on each person. And each person's mix of bacteria-called a chemical signature-is unique to them, providing an identifiable biomarker like a fingerprint or retinal scan.

Fascinating as it is, In the end, this information is just the beginning of what scientists say they want to learn about the human microbiome. For instance, while staphylococcus, the bacteria known to cause dangerous and even lethal infections, was found on all the subjects, none of them were sick, leading the researchers to question what exactly makes someone succumb to a particular bug. "We can see them but we don't know what they're doing there. At this point it's a mystery," said Dorrestein. (In the meantime, find out What The Germs on the NYC Subway Reveal.)



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