Each and every person emits a microbial cloud that hangs in the air around them leaving behind foreign microorganisms, and now researchers are trying to figure out if we can be identified by these clouds, according to a study published in the science journal PeerJ on Tuesday
The microbial clouds are made of dead skin cells, fungus, and other microbes that humans leave behind on surfaces wherever we go, leading scientists to believe that there may be a way to use it as identification, Newsweek reported
"You know the dirty kid from 'Peanuts'? Pig-Pen? It turns out we all look like that," James Meadow, a data scientist at San Francisco-based Phylagen, told the news site. "We give off a million biological particles from our body every hour as we move around. I have a beard; when I scratch it, I'm releasing a little plume into the air. It's just this cloud of particles we're always giving off, that happens to be nearly invisible."
But could these microbial clouds be used to identify individual people? Researchers participating in the PeerJ study suggested that one day they might, based off evidence gathered by testing people sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber.
"Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants," the study said in its abstract. "Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud."
Meadow told National Public Radio that the research
raised the probability that law enforcement may one day to be able to use such technology to identify criminals by analyzing the microbial cloud a person leaves behind at a crime scene.
"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," Meadow told NPR. "Maybe there's a way to use microbes for that."
Continued research could lead scientists to discover how each person develops their own microbiome, researcher Rob Knight, of the University of California, San Diego, told NPR.
"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 said. "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."
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