Friday, March 6, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Microbes studies show it’s a germy world

By Lee Bowman

It’s a germy world out there. Microbes prevail in our environment from cloud top to subterranean urban haunts to the tongue and paws of the family dog, a trio of recent studies reveal.

The research is part of a larger effort to better understand where people pick up the roughly 100 trillion microorganisms that live on and inside each of us, some causing disease, but most harmless or aiding our own biological functions.

First, NASA-sponsored researchers found that bacteria can thrive from 25,000 feet — cruising altitude for commercial jets — up to about 46,000 feet, based on sampling done over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea in 2010.

While humans can’t survive at those heights without oxygen and protection against extreme cold, the high, thin air was found to be hospitable to more than 300 different types of bacteria (and a few fungi).

Each cubic meter of air measured contained roughly 150,000 cells, with anywhere from 60 to 100 percent of them alive. Samples were taken before, during and after the passage of two major hurricanes — Earl and Karl — through the area.

While the diversity of microbes was much greater in samples grabbed during and after the hurricanes’ passage, a consistent group of 17 bacteria was found in every sample.

The study, led by scientists at Georgia Tech and published online in January by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps fill in some important gaps about life high in the atmosphere.

Not only do the bacteria join dust and other material in aiding the formation of clouds and precipitation, but the discovery that so many can live at high altitudes also shows germs swept up by large storms may be viable after they’ve been swept around the planet.

In one of two studies by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, scientists developed what amounts to an air-sampling “Big Gulp” to do a comprehensive test of the microbes inhabiting New York City’s subways. Collecting each sample took only 20 minutes, compared to the hours needed for conventional methods.

What they found after analyzing the contents of a couple of cubic meters of air collected a few flights down from the surface is that New York subway air isn’t much different from the air at sidewalk level. The main differences were that subway air had a bit more bacteria normally found on human skin — no surprise to anyone who’s been packed onto a 6 train at rush hour — and about double the density of fungal material than air “up top.” The researchers suspect rotting wood contributes to that discrepancy.

The research, published online last month by the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, is particularly helpful in setting a baseline of subway germ counts to possibly aid in monitoring any attempt to mount a biological attack on the transit system.

Another UC-Boulder-led team reported last month on the canine-human bacterial exchange, sampling 159 people and 36 dogs in 60 families, each with at least one couple between the ages of 26 and 87. Swabs were taken from the tongue, forehead and palms on the people, fur on the head and all four paws on the dogs, plus fecal samples from all.

It turned out that people with both dogs and children had more bacteria in common with their pets. Also, spouses who shared a dog also had more similar skin bacteria between them than those without a pooch in the mix.

There were a number of other age and environmental differences, with parents sharing more tongue and gut microbes with their own children than with other children, but only starting after age 3. The weakest connection was the father-to-infant sharing of germs on the forehead and palms.

The study was published in the online journal eLIFE.

It’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of U.S. households have a cat or dog. Scientists say adding household pets to the microbial mix is important as they try to understand such issues as the development of children’s immune systems, allergies and, perhaps, autoimmune diseases, as well as the direct spread of some diseases. At the same time, our pets are susceptible to picking up some infections from humans, particularly the flu.

— Contact Scripps health and medical writer Lee Bowman at [email protected]

Comments

comments

Scripps Howard News Service

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Bay Area developers join Mace proposal

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

     
    Trial ordered in Davis child death case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    ‘Topping out': Sign a building beam at the Shrem Museum

    By Jeffrey Day | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Life after lawn: Fifty greens for shade

    By Katie F. Hetrick | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Bob Dunning: There’s an exception to every rule

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Ukraine declares heavy weapons pullback from front line

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    NASA craft circling Ceres in first visit to dwarf planet

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    CHP car hit with bullet on highway

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    UCD police warn of sexual battery incident

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Got sun? Indoor herbs can thrive on windowsills

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

     
    Quick home improvements that raise your resale value

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    How can we know that the products we buy for our homes are safe?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Spring-clean your kitchen in five easy steps

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Cabrillo Club plans membership dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Dryers: Homes’ energy guzzlers just got greener

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    UCD improving farming, food production with fewer pesticides

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    PSAs highlight area nonprofits

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

     
    Peripheral neuropathy support offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

    Workshop eyes creating peace through creative play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Museum brick sales to end this month

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Older adults will discuss conscious aging movement

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7Comments are off for this post

    Waldorf’s spring tea party doubles as open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Register online for Woodland rec classes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Pig out at Pig Day Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Porkers on display at Hattie Weber Museum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    St. John’s shows off cuisine at brunch

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

     
    Seniors serious about fitness

    By Savannah Holmes | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    .

    Forum

    Some convicts don’t deserve parole hearings

    By Tom Elias | From Page: B4

     
    Here’s how to make college cheaper

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Obama’s world is a dangerous place

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

    Dirty laundry on the company line

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B9

     
    .

    Sports

    Marsh provides radio images of a ‘magical’ Aggie hoops season

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil volleyballers cruise in home opener

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    DHS girls track and field team reloads for 2015

    By Dylan Lee | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD women fall at UCR

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggie men clinch Big West crown

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Bella Vista slips past DHS softballers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

     
    Rec Report: Looking ahead to spring break

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B5

     
    Wineaux: A local diamond in the rough, revisited

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

    .

    Arts

    Steve Kiser’s work on display at Gallery 1855

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Tables available at Vinyl and Music Fair

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Second-rate

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    Learn from experts at ‘Art of Painting’ conference

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    Tom Brousseau to visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ auditions set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela celebrate Mandela’s legacy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Honey, we shrank the SUV — and Europe loves it

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, March 6, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B10