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Same research study is discussed as in the last post (Your Bacteria All Over Your Home), but different write-up with more and different details. From Washington Post:

Hotel rooms aren’t yucky – you colonize them with your own personal bacteria within hours

When you move from one house to another, you take all your bacteria with you. In fact, your family's microbiome (or your eco-system of inner and outer bacteria) lays claim to hotel rooms with hours. Our bacterial signatures are so persistent and so unique, a new study published Thursday in Science reports, that they could even be used in forensic investigations — and eventually become more useful to police than an old-fashioned fingerprint. And the same research that could track down a serial killer could also help you raise healthier kids.

In studying seven families as they moved from one house to another, the microbiologists had one major takeaway: Bacteria move from your body to your living space at incredible speed.

"Everyone thinks hotels are icky," said Jack Gilbert,, corresponding author of the study and environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, "but when one young couple we studied moved into a hotel, it was microbiologically identical to their home within 24 hours." And unpublished further research reveals that the time frame is even swifter than that. "No matter what you do to clean a hotel room," Gilbert said, "your microbial signal has wiped out basically every trace of the previous resident within hours."

What's more, the researchers were able to determine how much individuals in a family interacted, what rooms they used, and even when they'd last been to one part of the house or another. This has obvious applications in forensic science. "We could go all J. Edgar Hoover on this and make a database of microbial fingerprints of people all over the world," Gilbert said, "and it's far more sophisticated than a standard fingerprint, which is just a presence or absence indication. We can see who they are, where they're from, the diet they're eating, when they left, who they may have been interacting with. It gets pretty crazy."

Gilbert and his colleagues are already working with police in Hawaii, hoping to look at the microbiome left on dead bodies. "If someone is, shall we say, recently and inappropriately deceased," Gilbert said, "we can look at their bacterial colonies and try to identify who the last person to come into contact with them was, and when." Based on some promising animal studies, he said, it could be possible. "An actual fingerprint is rarely left on a body," Gilbert said, "but a microbial fingerprint certainly is."

The Home Microbiome Study has more immediate applications, too. Gilbert, a father of two, hopes that fellow parents will use these and future findings to raise their offspring in healthier microbiomes. Before the age of two, the human microbiome remains in flux. Different species of bacteria compete to gain permanent spots — and once the race is run, you're basically stuck with the winners. Research in animals has shown that bacterial exposure in youth can impact physical and mental development and health for the rest of an organism's life.

"Let's say a kid grows up in an apartment block, without going outside much," Gilbert said. "They're just getting this same human bacteria fed back to them, day after day." More exposure is most certainly the better route.

For starters, get a dog. Partway through the study, Gilbert did just that. "We saw dogs acting as a super-charged conduit," he said, "transferring bacteria between one human and another, and bringing in outdoor bacteria. They just run around distributing microbes all willy-nilly." Sure enough, his family saw their home's microbiome benefit from the new addition.

We now know that most bacteria are beneficial to us — and that some can even prevent allergies."Imagine if we could engineer our home environments, optimize our carpeting and air conditioning systems, to bring in the really good bacteria," he said. 

Exciting research! From Science Daily:

Home is where the microbes are

A person's home is their castle, and they populate it with their own subjects: millions and millions of bacteria. Scientists have detailed the microbes that live in houses and apartments. The study was conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. 

The results shed light on the complicated interaction between humans and the microbes that live on and around us. Mounting evidence suggests that these microscopic, teeming communities play a role in human health and disease treatment and transmission.

"We know that certain bacteria can make it easier for mice to put on weight, for example, and that others influence brain development in young mice," said Argonne microbiologist Jack Gilbert, who led the study. "We want to know where these bacteria come from, and as people spend more and more time indoors, we wanted to map out the microbes that live in our homes and the likelihood that they will settle on us.

The Home Microbiome Project followed seven families, which included eighteen people, three dogs and one cat, over the course of six weeks. The participants in the study swabbed their hands, feet and noses daily to collect a sample of the microbial populations living in and on them. They also sampled surfaces in the house, including doorknobs, light switches, floors and countertops. Then the samples came to Argonne, where researchers performed DNA analysis to characterize the different species of microbes in each sample.

They found that people substantially affected the microbial communities in a house -- when three of the families moved, it took less than a day for the new house to look just like the old one, microbially speaking.

Regular physical contact between individuals also mattered -- in one home where two of the three occupants were in a relationship with one another, the couple shared many more microbes. Married couples and their young children also shared most of their microbial community.

Within a household, hands were the most likely to have similar microbes, while noses showed more individual variation. Adding pets changed the makeup as well, Gilbert said -- they found more plant and soil bacteria in houses with indoor-outdoor dogs or cats.

In at least one case, the researchers tracked a potentially pathogenic strain of bacteria called Enterobacter, which first appeared on one person's hands, then the kitchen counter, and then another person's hands. "It's also quite possible that we are routinely exposed to harmful bacteria -- living on us and in our environment -- but it only causes disease when our immune systems are otherwise disrupted."

Home microbiome studies also could potentially serve as a forensic tool, Gilbert said. Given an unidentified sample from a floor in this study, he said, "we could easily predict which family it came from."

The research also suggests that when a person (and their microbes) leaves a house, the microbial community shifts noticeably in a matter of days."You could theoretically predict whether a person has lived in this location, and how recently, with very good accuracy," he said.

Another reason to wash your hands before handling food. From The Scientist:

Money Microbiome

Analyzing the genetic material on 80 $1 bills sampled from a Manhattan bank, researchers from New York University (NYU) have discovered a diverse array of microbes, most of which are relatively harmless to humans, but a few that may leave you washing your hands after every cash transaction. It total, they found more than 3,000 bacterial types, including some drug-resistant species, and known microbes accounted for just 20 percent of the non-human DNA the researchers isolated; the rest belongs to as-yet unidentified species.

The most abundant species the researchers identified were those that cause acne, followed by benign skin flora. More alarming discoveries included pathogenic Staphylococcus species as well as bacteria associated with gastric ulcers, pneumonia, and food poisoning. The researchers also found DNA from antibiotic-resistance genes, such as those carried by the deadly methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The researchers even found evidence of anthrax, although Carlton notes this shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern. “Anthrax is a very common bacteria in soil."

Nevertheless, the microbial diversity identified highlights the likelihood that cash—one of the most common items to be distributed internationally—could spread disease around the world.2010 study that investigated currencies from 10 different countries, including Australia, China, the U.K., Ireland, Mexico, and the U.S., found similarly dirty money, and the authors recommended “that current guidelines as they apply in most countries with regard to the concurrent hygienic handling of foods and money should be universally adopted.”

Breast milk contains hundreds of species of bacteria.From the December 8, 2013 Scientific American:

The bacteria in breast milk

Several recent studies have found that breast milk contains a healthy dose of commensal bacteria; all the staphylococci, streptococci, and lactic acid bacteria that are found in the infant gut. This isn’t just bacteria from the skin which have contaminated the samples, but bacteria that have come from inside the breast as an integral component of the milk.

In a study of 16 women it was found that while each milk sample contained hundreds of different bacterial species, around half of the microbiotic community was made up of nine species present in all samples. The other half varied from person to person. This pattern is also found in human gut microbes; a core set present in all individuals along with a large diversity of separate species to make up a unique individual microbiome.

So how do bacteria get into breast milk? Some of them may come from the mouth of the baby. During feeding the skin of both the mother and baby will be in contact with the baby’s open mouth and a certain amount of flow-back can occur between the mouth and nipple. More excitingly it’s been suggested that immune cells in the mothers gut may be able to pick up bacteria and carry them around the body using the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels used to transport blood plasma. It’s a main highway for immune cells inside the body and is also involved in the absorption and transports of fats.

Like all humans, infants have a range of bacteria within their gut. It looks like these bacteria are initially supplied from the mother’vaginal and skin bacteria, before being replaced by bacteria from the breast milk. Researchers also found that when babies started eating solid food a whole new range of bacteria was introduced, forming the gut microbiome that persisted into adulthood.

Some recent studies have explored the link between bacteria in the gut and colorectal cancer. The beneficial Prevotellaceae bacteria (mentioned in the Nov. 5 study below) have been discussed elsewhere as liking whole grain foods. So go feed your gut with some nice whole grain bread or cereal. And some fruits and veggies while you're at it. As mom used to say: "You are what you eat."

A study published December 6, 2013 found that decreased diversity of the gut microbiome and the presence of certain types of bacteria were associated with colorectal cancer in humans: Decreased Diversity of Bacteria Microbiome in Gut Associated Colorectal Cancer

From the November 5, 2013 Science Daily: Microbes in the Gut Help Determine Risk of Tumors

Transferring the gut microbes from a mouse with colon tumors to germ-free mice makes those mice prone to getting tumors as well, according to the results of a study published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The work has implications for human health because it indicates the risk of colorectal cancer may well have a microbial component.

Scientists have known for years that inflammation plays a role in the development of colorectal cancer, but this new information indicates that interactions between inflammation and subsequent changes in the gut microbiota create the conditions that result in colon tumors.

Known risk factors for developing colorectal cancer include consuming a diet rich in red meat, alcohol consumption, and chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract (patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, are at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer, for instance).

The results were stark: mice given the microbiota of the tumor-bearing mice had more than two times as many colon tumors as the mice given a healthy microbiota. What's more, normal mice that were given antibiotics before and after inoculation had significantly fewer tumors than the mice that got no antibiotics, and tumors that were present in these antibiotic-treated mice were significantly smaller than tumors in untreated mice. This suggests that specific populations of microorganisms were essential for the formation of tumors...

Looking at the microorganisms, they found that tumor-bearing mice harbored greater numbers of bacteria within the Bacteroides, Odoribacter, and Akkermansia genera, and decreased numbers of bacteria affiliated with members of the Prevotellaceae and Porphyromonadaceae families. Three weeks after they were inoculated with the communities from the tumor-bearing mice, the germ-free mice had a gut microbiome that was very similar to the tumor-bearing mice, and they had a greater abundance of the same bacterial groups associated with tumor-formation. 

In case you missed it, Michael Pollan wrote an article about the human microbiome (the community of microbes that live within us) that was published May 15, 2013. Much of the article was about how the modern western diet may not be good for the human microbiome and how we can eat for better gut health. From the NY Times:

Some of My Best Friends Are Germs 

 As part of a new citizen-science initiative called thAmerican Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body. These bacteria, which number around 100 trillion, are living (and dying) right now on the surface of my skin, on my tongue and deep in the coils of my intestines, where the largest contingent of them will be found, a pound or two of microbes together forming a vast, largely uncharted interior wilderness that scientists are just beginning to map.

Few of the scientists I interviewed had much doubt that the Western diet was altering our gut microbiome in troubling ways. Some, like Blaser, are concerned about the antimicrobials we’re ingesting with our meals; others with the sterility of processed food. Most agreed that the lack of fiber in the Western diet was deleterious to the microbiome, and still others voiced concerns about the additives in processed foods, few of which have ever been studied for their specific effects on the microbiota.

So I gave up asking scientists for recommendations and began asking them instead how, in light of what they’ve learned about the microbiome, they have changed their own diets and lifestyles. Most of them have made changes. They were slower to take, or give their children, antibiotics. (I should emphasize that in no way is this an argument for the rejection of antibiotics when they are medically called for.) Some spoke of relaxing the sanitary regime in their homes, encouraging their children to play outside in the dirt and with animals — deliberately increasing their exposure to the great patina. Many researchers told me they had eliminated or cut back on processed foods, either because of its lack of fiber or out of concern about additives. In general they seemed to place less faith in probiotics (which few of them used) than in prebiotics — foods likely to encourage the growth of “good bacteria” already present. Several, including Justin Sonnenburg, said they had added fermented foods to their diet: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut. These foods can contain large numbers of probiotic bacteria, like L. plantarum and bifidobacteria, and while most probiotic bacteria don’t appear to take up permanent residence in the gut, there is evidence that they might leave their mark on the community, sometimes by changing the gene expression of the permanent residents — in effect turning on or off metabolic pathways within the cell — and sometimes by stimulating or calming the immune response.

...something a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh told me. “The big problem with the Western diet,” Stephen O’Keefe said, “is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper G I. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower G I. But it turns out that one of the keys to health is fermentation in the large intestine.” And the key to feeding the fermentation in the large intestine is giving it lots of plants with their various types of fiber, including resistant starch (found in bananas, oats, beans); soluble fiber (in onions and other root vegetables, nuts); and insoluble fiber (in whole grains, especially bran, and avocados).

With our diet of swiftly absorbed sugars and fats, we’re eating for one and depriving the trillion of the food they like best: complex carbohydrates and fermentable plant fibers. The byproduct of fermentation is the short-chain fatty acids that nourish the gut barrier and help prevent inflammation. And there are studies suggesting that simply adding plants to a fast-food diet will mitigate its inflammatory effect.

...I began to see how you might begin to shop and cook with the microbiome in mind, the better to feed the fermentation in our guts. The less a food is processed, the more of it that gets safely through the gastrointestinal tract and into the eager clutches of the microbiota. Al dente pasta, for example, feeds the bugs better than soft pasta does; steel-cut oats better than rolled; raw or lightly cooked vegetables offer the bugs more to chomp on than overcooked, etc. This is at once a very old and a very new way of thinking about food: it suggests that all calories are not created equal and that the structure of a food and how it is prepared may matter as much as its nutrient composition.

Within the past few years there has been an explosion in human microbiome research - looking at the community of microorganisms that live in and on human beings. Within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells ten to one! This community of microorganisms remains largely unstudied, and so their influence on human development, diseases, immunity, and health are almost entirely unknown.  Some of the latest research looks at the microbiomes of healthy people and those with diseases, seeing how they differ, and from that looking at possible treatments using bacteria.  This is a whole different mind-set from the one we've had for decades that viewed all bacteria as bad (pathogens) and needing to be eliminated. 

An introduction to this emerging area of human microbiome research was written by Gina Kolata in the NY Times, June 13, 2013:  

In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

For years, bacteria have had a bad name. They are the cause of infections, of diseases. They are something to be scrubbed away, things to be avoided. But now researchers have taken a detailed look at another set of bacteria that may play even bigger roles in health and disease: the 100 trillion good bacteria that live in or on the human body.

No one really knew much about them. They are essential for human life, needed to digest food, to synthesize certain vitamins, to form a barricade against disease-causing bacteria. But what do they look like in healthy people, and how much do they vary from person to person?

In a new five-year federal endeavor, the Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared to the Human Genome Project, 200 scientists at 80 institutions sequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people. They discovered more strains than they had ever imagined — as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person’s. To the scientists’ surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

"Until recently, Dr. Bassler added, the bacteria in the microbiome were thought to be just “passive riders.” They were barely studied, microbiologists explained, because it was hard to know much about them. 

The work also helps establish criteria for a healthy microbiome, which can help in studies of how antibiotics perturb a person’s microbiome and how long it takes the microbiome to recover.

In recent years, as investigators began to probe the microbiome in small studies, they began to appreciate its importance. Not only do the bacteria help keep people healthy, but they also are thought to help explain why individuals react differently to various drugs and why some are susceptible to certain infectious diseases while others are impervious. When they go awry they are thought to contribute to chronic diseases and conditions like irritable bowel syndromeasthma, even, possibly, obesity.

"The microbiome starts to grow at birth, said Lita Proctor, program director for the Human Microbiome Project. As babies pass through the birth canal, they pick up bacteria from the mother’s vaginal microbiome.

Babies born by Caesarean section, Dr. Proctor added, start out with different microbiomes, but it is not yet known whether their microbiomes remain different after they mature.In adults, the body carries two to five pounds of bacteria, even though these cells are minuscule — one-tenth to one-hundredth the size of a human cell. The gut, in particular, is stuffed with them.

“The gut is not jam-packed with food; it is jam-packed with microbes,” Dr. Proctor said. “Half of your stool is not leftover food. It is microbial biomass.” But bacteria multiply so quickly that they replenish their numbers as fast as they are excreted.

Including the microbiome as part of an individual is, some researchers said, a new way to look at human beings. The next step, he said, is to better understand how the microbiome affects health and disease and to try to improve health by deliberately altering the microbiome. But, Dr. Relman said, “we are scratching at the surface now.”

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FOR THOSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO SEE A VIDEO ON THIS TOPIC, this TED talk given by Dr. Jonathan Eisen  is an excellent introduction to the human microbiome and how we should view ourselves as being covered in a microbial cloud.  And that this microbial community within and on us should be viewed as an organ, and thus should be treated carefully and with respect.

Who are “Me, Myself and Us?”

2012Jonathan Eisen