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Dandruff is a very common scalp disorder that has occurred for centuries. A new study found that the most abundant bacteria on the scalp are Propionibacterium and Staphylococcus, and that they have a reciprocal relationship with each other - when one is high, the other is low. When compared with a normal scalp, dandruff regions had decreased Propionibacterium and increased Staphylococcus. The researchers suggested that these findings suggest a new way to treat dandruff - to increase the Propionibacterium and decrease the Staphylococcus on the scalp. Stay tuned for possible future treatments using these findings. From Science Daily:

Bacteria the yin and yang of dandruff, says study

Dandruff is not caused by a fungus, as many believe, but by an imbalance between two competing bacteria that naturally colonise the human scalp, according to a study released Thursday. Think of Propionibacterium and Staphylococcus as the yin and yang of healthy hair: when they hold each other in check, so too is dandruff held at bay. But when one dominates the other, the tell-tale white flecks that settle on shoulders like snowdust begin to proliferate, a team of Chinese and Japanese researchers reported.

Dandruff is the most common scalp disorder on the planet, a tonsorial bane for about half the world's population. But experts have differed sharply over the years on its causes and possible cures....A team anchored by Zhang Menghui of Shanghai Jiao Tong University isolated a large number of variables in the ecosystem of the human scalp to see how they interact. In 59 Chinese volunteers aged from 18 to 60 years old, they measured levels of water, several dozen bacteria, sebum—an oily secretion that proliferates in adolescence and early adulthood....Participants washed their hair 48 hours in advance of the tests, and dandruff samples were taken from eight different sections of the scalp.

"Overall, fungi did not exhibit an important role in the severity of dandruff," they concluded.
"The relationship between the bacteria and the dandruff was significantly stronger."
But the scientists also noticed that prevalence of the pesky white particles was higher when the ratio of two dominant bacteria—which normally cancel each other out—was altered. "This study suggests that adjusting the balance of the bacteria on the scalp... might be a potential solution to lessen dandruff," they concluded.

The mother is an important source of the first microbiome for infants by "seeding" the baby's microbiome - from the vaginal birth and then breastfeeding. However, research finds that infants born by C-section acquire bacteria commonly found on skin (Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium) rather than the bacteria acquired during a vaginal birth.

This study examined the source of the skin-type bacteria found on C-section babies. The researchers analyzed the dust from operating rooms (which they collected right after C-sections) and found that it contains deposits of human skin bacteria and human skin flakes. The researchers point out that "Humans shed up to 37 million bacterial genomes into the environment per hour." Operating rooms are occupied by humans, lack natural ventilation, and even though they are regularly cleaned, the humans using the operating rooms shed bacteria and skin flakes. From Microbiome:

The first microbial environment of infants born by C-section: the operating room microbes

Newborns delivered by C-section acquire human skin microbes just after birth, but the sources remain unknown. We hypothesized that the operating room (OR) environment contains human skin bacteria that could be seeding C-section born infants. To test this hypothesis, we sampled 11 sites in four operating rooms from three hospitals in two cities. Following a C-section procedure, we swabbed OR floors, walls, ventilation grids, armrests, and lamps....The bacterial content of OR (operating room) dust corresponded to human skin bacteria, with dominance of Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium. Diversity of bacteria was the highest in the ventilation grids and walls but was also present on top of the surgery lamps. 

We conclude that the dust from ORs, collected right after a C-section procedure, contains deposits of human skin bacteria. The OR microbiota is the first environment for C-section newborns, and OR microbes might be seeding the microbiome in these babies. 

In the present study, we used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to show that OR dust, collected right after a C-section procedure, contains bacteria similar to human skin microbiota. Previous studies using culture-dependent methods also showed that over 85 % of air samples from ORs had skin-like bacteria which were mostly coagulase-negative staphylococci and Corynebacterium. These airborne skin-bacteria could be from individuals present during C-section but could also be shed by cleaning personnel between operations.

In our study, 30 % of samples failed to yield sufficient DNA sequences to be analyzed. While there are no published data on the microbiota in operating rooms using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, very few bacteria (average 3.3–3.5 CFU/10 cm2) were detected in ORs after regular decontamination using standard culturing methods, consistent with the low sequence numbers in our study.

In addition, we found that the microbiota of OR samples was more similar to human skin microbiota than oral microbiota and that OR dust contains deposits of human skin flakes. These results reveal that while the use of surgical masks has limited effectiveness at curtailing oral microbial shedding, skin flakes from individuals present during C-section and/or from cleaning personnel between operations could be a more influential factor contributing to the structure of OR microbiota.

Our SourceTracker analysis results suggest that the OR microbes could play a role in seeding infants born by C-section. C-section born infants, in particular, may be solely receiving this inoculum, while vaginally born infants have exposure to vaginal bacteria. The results of these further studies could be relevant to the possible effects on the priming of the immune system by skin bacteria from environmental sources as the primordial inoculum seeding the infant microbiome. This might be relevant to the increased risk of immune diseases observed in C-section born infants.

Amazing persistence of the restroom microbial community.From NPR news:

What Microbes Lurked In The Last Public Restroom You Used?

The invisible world of the bathroom isn't pretty — unless you're a microbe. After scanning the microbial zoo of four public restrooms recently, a team of researchers found a diverse swarm of characters that persisted for months despite regular cleaning of the facilities. The goal of the study, published in the December issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, was to better understand how communities of bacteria and viruses can shift in these very public places across a couple of months.

To get their down-and-dirty readings, the researchers selected four bathrooms at San Diego State University... They checked two women's restrooms and two men's restrooms (a high-traffic and a low-traffic bathroom for each gender). The bathrooms were thoroughly cleaned at the study's start with bleach solution, which killed any existing germ communities.Then, during the following hours, days, weeks and months of human use, the researchers periodically swabbed soap dispensers, floors and toilet seats in all four restrooms for microbe samples. 

Within one hour of sterilization, the bathrooms were completely recolonized with microbes — just as plants rapidly arrive and populate a newly emerged island. Fecal bacteria dominated, including on toilet seats and on soap dispensers — about 45 percent of the bacteria there were of fecal origin.

In all, the scientists found genetic traces of more than 77,000 distinct types of bacteria and viruses. (At least some of those species were likely dead or dormant, the scientists add; genetic testing detects them all, whatever their status.)

Patterns of regrowth and succession, as some species waned and others replaced them, were surprisingly similar from bathroom to bathroom; within just five hours the population mix in each room stabilized.

When the team tried growing cultures from different surfaces in each room, they found one set of live bacteria in overwhelming abundance: Staphylococcus. Staph's persistence in these studies points to its power as a potential pathogen, Gilbert says. Various versions are common on human skin and inside the nose and other orifices; they generally cause no problems, or trigger only minor skin infections. But staph infections can be serious, or even kill, if the bacteria get into bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart

Gilbert notes that none of the live Staph strains detected in the San Diego bathrooms showed signs of being antibiotic resistant. They were instead relatively harmless "skin bugs that happened to have lost their skin," he says. The team did find genes from MRSA hiding on the floor, as well as traces of some troublemaker viruses, including HPV and herpes virus.

Interestingly, although restrooms that were left open for use for up to two months were cleaned regularly with soap and water, the communities of microbes found there remained relatively unchanged for the full eight weeks of the study.

No need to be scared or grossed out by that finding, Gilbert says..."All human environments contain pathogens — your bedroom, the phone you're talking on, even the bugs inside of you could turn pathogenic at any time," Gilbert tells Shots. "But we desperately need them in our lives." Having a healthy community of good — or even just neutral — microbes can crowd out the bad ones. As we've learned from using broad-spectrum antibiotics in the human body, "sterilization is not necessarily good," he says. "Bacteria come back right away, and they might come back perturbed."

Another interesting study that makes you think about our microbiome. From NPR:

Stinky T-Shirt? Bacteria Love Polyester In A Special Way

Anyone with a drawerful of T-shirts knows that the synthetic ones can get sour after just a brief jog, while old-school cotton T-shirts remain relatively stink-free all day. And now science explains why. The bacteria that flourish on a sweaty polyester T-shirt are different from those that grow on cotton, researchers at the University of Ghent in Belgium found. Polyester makes a happy home for Micrococcus bacteria, while Staphylococcus, a common armpit denizen, was found on both poly and cotton.

Microbes love the cozy warmth of the human armpit; it's like a trip to the tropics without ever having to leave home. And it's crowded in there. Those microbes eat compounds in sweat and generate odors, which support a flourishing deodorant industry. 

The scientists asked 26 volunteers to take a spinning class while wearing shirts made of cotton, poly or blends. The shirts were then incubated for a day, and the microbes extracted and DNA fingerprinted. Volunteers also had their armpits swabbed. 

It turns out the bugs on the shirts are different from the bugs in the pits. While Corynebacterium is thought to be the main cause of armpit body odor, there was no Corynebacterium on the clothes. Instead, Staphylococcus flourished on cotton and poly, and Micrococcus, bacteria also known for making malodor, loved polyester.

He's also trying to help people with excessive body odor by giving them armpit bacteria transplants. "We have done transplants with about 15 people, and most of them have been successful," Callewaert, a Ph.D. student in applied biological sciences at the University of Ghent, tells Shots. "All have had an effect short term, but the bad odor comes back after a few months for some people."

Manufacturers have tried to make polyester fabric less hospitable to bacteria by impregnating it with antimicrobials like silver nanoparticles or triclosan. Both products have been criticized as having potentially negative impacts on the environment, and there are few data on how they might affect the wearer. Callewaert thinks the ultimate solution will be something more organic — supplant bad bugs with good ones. 

An interesting small study of the human armpit bacterial community. From Real Clear Science:

Antiperspirants Alter Your Armpit Bacteria and Could Actually Make You Smell Worse

In modern society, antiperspirants are widely hailed as a godsend, dispelling the inconvenient odors wafting from armpits everywhere. But a new study casts doubts on their vaunted position. As it turns out, antiperspirants may actually make you smell worse in the long run.

For 90% of all Americans, slathering on deodorants and antiperspirants is a daily occurrence, a precautionary measure against foul odors and unsightly sweat stains. The odors arise when bacteria living in our armpits break down lipids and amino acids excreted in sweat into more smelly substances. Deodorants employ antimicrobial agents that kill off bacteria, as well as chemicals that replace noxious odors with pleasant aromas. Deodorants that double as antiperspirants, like Degree, Old Spice, and Dove, take the process one step further by physically plugging sweat glands with aluminum-based compounds.

While most of us might only concern ourselves with the dry, aromatic benefits of antiperspirants and deodorants, researchers at the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology at the University of Ghent in Belgium are more interested in the effects on bacteria. Billions of bacteria dwell in the "rain forests" under our arms, and the substances we don are mucking with their habitats!

To uncover how deodorants and antiperspirants affect armpit bacteria, Chris Callewaert, a Ph.D student specializing in microbial ecology, and a team of researchers recruited eight subjects for a task a great many people (and especially their friends) might deem unbearable: Six males and two females pledged not to use deodorant or antiperspirant for an entire month. Specifically, four subjects stopped using their deodorants and another four stopped using their antiperspirant deodorant. (Most antiperspirants are also deodorants. See image below for an example.) Another control subject who did not regularly use either was asked to use deodorant for a month. The duration was chosen because it takes approximately 28 days for a new layer of skin cells to form.

The researchers analyzed the diversity and abundance of subjects' armpit bacteria at various timepoints before they stopped using antiperspirant, during the period of abstaining from antiperspirant, and for a few weeks after resuming the use of antiperspirant. Switching hygiene habits plainly altered the armpit bacterial communities of every subject. Since no two armpits and their resident bacteria are identical, it was difficult to pinpoint precise changes brought about by deodorants or antiperspirants, but one clear trend did materialize: antiperspirants resulted in a clear increase of Actinobacteria.

You might not recognize the name of Actinobacteria, but chances are, you've smelled them. Dominated by Corynebacterium, they are the major instigators of noxious armpit odor. Other microbes that inhabit the armpit, like Firmicutes and Staphylococcus, don't produce odors as quickly, nor are those odors nearly as pungent.

Callewaert believes the aluminum compounds in antiperspirants may be to blame, killing off "good," less smelly bacteria and allowing "bad" bacteria to dominate. His study found that deodorants which lack these sweat-blocking antiperspirant compounds are actually linked to a slight decrease of stinky Actinobacteria.

Though antiperspirants and deodorants are widely used, they are only a temporary fix."The measures we utilize today do not take away the initial source: the odor causing bacteria," Callewaert told RealClearScience. "Deodorants only mask unpleasant odors. We can do better than that. The follow up of this research is finding better solutions."

And Callewaert is already working on one: "armpit bacterial transplantation"."We take away the bad bacteria from the armpit of somebody with a body odor, and replace it with the good bacteria of a relative who doesn't have a body odor," he explained."So far we have helped over 15 people. For most subjects it brings immediate improvements. Most of them on a permanent time scale, although there are also people who suffer again from a body odor after some months."