Everyone emits a cloud of microbes unique enough to act as a kind of personal fingerprint, according to new research from the University of Oregon’s Biology and the Built Environment Center. The researchers have just published their findings in the PeerJ academic journal.
Led by postdoctoral researcher James F. Meadow, the team conducted an experiment in which 11 volunteers were asked to separately spend a certain period of time in a sanitized chamber. At the end of each session, the researchers analyzed the microbial content of the chamber, producing over 14 million sequences from 312 air and dust samples. What they found was that the microbial cloud for each person was different, both in its size and in its contents. Everybody emits microbes, like Streptococcus from their breath and Propionibacterium from their skin, but the unique combinations of these and other microbes varied from individual to individual.
The research has potentially important applications for forensic identification. Investigators could theoretically use the microbial footprint to determine who was likely in a crime scene after the fact, for example. Looking to more banal deployments, it’s possible that the microbial signature could someday be used for authentication; after all, there are numerous novel biometrics being explored, such as neurobiometrics, to complement the fingerprint scanning now prevalent on smartphones. Perhaps one day sensors will look more closely at the tiny particles surrounding individuals, rather than the individuals themselves, for identification.
September 22, 2015 – by Alex Perala