Sharing A Common Microbiological Connection To Our Mobile Phones
June 24, 2014

Sharing A Common Microbiological Connection To Our Mobile Phones

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

We might be more connected to our mobile phones than we think. According to recent research, such phones reflect a significant microbiological connection with their owners. The study focused on the collection of microorganisms on the items worn or carried by a person regularly.

In a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation workshop in Princeton, New Jersey, researchers from the University of Oregon sequenced microbes from the dominant-hand index fingers and thumbs – along with the touchscreens of their smartphones – of 17 different people. The results concluded that 82 percent of the most common bacteria found on the participants’ fingers, were also found on their cell phones.

Of the people examined, women were found to be more closely connected microbiologically than men to their phones. The findings were published online on June 24, in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

Three of the most common bacteria found on and in humans are Streptococcus, commonly found in the mouth, and Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium, both commonly found on the skin.

The team categorized whole microbial communities instead of pathogens, utilizing short-read 16S sequencing. Out of the 51 samples taken from the participants’ fingers and phones, more than 7,000 different types of bacteria were found.

“The sample size was small, but the findings, while intuitive, were revealing,” said lead author James F. Meadow, a postdoctoral researcher in the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon. “This project was a proof-of-concept to see if our favorite and most closely held possessions microbially resemble us. We are ultimately interested in the possibility of using personal effects as a non-invasive way to monitor our health and our contact with the surrounding environment,” he added.

Implications of the new research could mean real-time sequencing technology to screen the smartphones of healthcare workers instead of the people themselves. This could prevent the exposure of pathogens from being carried in and out of healthcare facilities.

Phones are such an important part of our everyday life, they may be a valuable asset for determining exposure to “biological threats or unusual sources of environmental microbes that don't necessarily end up integrated into our human microbiome,” researchers noted.

The findings also represent opportunities for future scientific uses, such as non-invasive sampling in large-scale microbial studies. Further research is needed to develop and test predictions of the spread of microbiota among people, especially in health care facilities where acquired infections impact one out of every 20 patients.

PRE-ORDER YOURS TODAY! Amazon Fire Phone, 32GB (AT&T)