Who's The True You? A collaboration of our body and 100 trillion of microbes (bacteria, algae, yeast, protists and more) colonizing it.
Microbiota is specific to every individual, and varies systematically across body habitats and time, as well as geographical location, preventing or causing a disease after exposures to infectious agents.
Some human skin locations harbor even more diverse bacterial communities than the gut that we were thoughtfully nourishing with probiotics.
New analysis published in Science Express adds more information to the earlier results (from May 2009, for example), showing how diverse the microbiota is and how easy it is to re-colonize the skin.
We mapped some of the findings as shown in the Figure (on the right; the figure on the left maps bacteria in GI tract, from Dr. Richard Lord’s presentation at the 2008 Functional Medicine Symposium in Carlsbad, CA). Moist sites are shown with blue arrows, such as inside the nose, the armpits, the navel, dry areas are shown with green arrows, such as the forearm and oily sites are shown with yellow arrows: inside the ear, between the eyebrows, forehead, the back of the scalp.
Sites of most bacterial diversity were : The index finger, back of knee, forearm, palm and sole of foot.The forehead displayed the least diversity (with bacterial populations strongly preffering this site and not letting other bacteria to co-habit the space), but there were individual differences between different people. The mouth cavity showed the least variation in diversity both within individuals and between people. Studies of other microbes such as viruses and bacteriophages show low diversity in the airways as well, even though the human respiratory tract is constantly exposed to a wide variety of microbes and environmental agents. There is a difference between diseased and non-diseased individuals though - in Cystic Fibrosis (CF). for example, viromes are enriched in aromatic amino acid metabolism. Note that this disease causes a distinct acidic breath - the more severe the condition is in an individual, the more acidic his breath becomes. The microbes were especially sensitive to amino-acid starvation indicating that therapeutic measures may be more effective if used to change the respiratory environment, as opposed to shifting the taxonomic composition of resident microbiota.
Altered breath resulting from changed micrflora is a known phenomenon and it can be detected not only by complex mass spec machines, but also by devices used in QA testing of foods (e.g. Cyranose pick up the scent of penzane, isoprene acetone, and benzene in the breath of lung cancer patients) and car air quality sensors to study human "fermentome". (See also ongoing clinical trials on chemicals in human breath for diagnostics of diseases).
Altered bacterial populations could, indeed, be studied by metabonomic profiling. At present, hovewer, the most accurate analysis, was performed based on microbial DNA or 16S RNA.
The study subjects were sampled four times each over a three-month period, typically after showering an hour or two earlier. Microbial DNA was then isolated directly from swabs used for sampling each body site. To recover bacteria from the skin surface, it was enough to swab it once by a wet cotton swab in 30 s.