Friday, October 24, 2014
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 BowmanL@shns.com.

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

    A-Z: Downtown Davis is the place to celebrate

    By Kimberly Yarris | From Page: C1

     
    Courageous Thompson tapped for cycling shrine

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    UC researchers: How low-water can our landscapes go?

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

    Testimony begins in Winters murder trial

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Hong Kong protesters to vote on staying in streets

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Cloud business lifts Microsoft’s quarterly results

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Yoga and chanting workshop planned

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Downtown menu: coffee, boba tea, dessert

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: C3

     
    Can you give them a home?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Scientists work to save endangered desert mammal

    By Kat Kerlin | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Host families needed for students and teachers from Mexico

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Halloween Dance set Friday for teens

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Day of the Dead folk art class set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Flea Market planned Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Enjoy A Taste of Capay at historic ranch

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Red-hot tunes set at Blues Harvest

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Learn how to fill a cornucopia with flowers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Video highlights Props. 1 and 2

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    ‘Homeopathy at Home’ program planned

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Celebrate origami at Davis library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Garden sale and open house features water-wise demos

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: C4

    Meet Poppenga at dog park Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Bay Bridge art project needs $4 million to keep shining

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Weir honored, a year early

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    For a good cause

    By Fred Gladdis | From Page: A6

    Americans, internationals make connections

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    Explorit: Poison-proof your home with free lecture

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A6

    Sutter auxiliary seeks volunteers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    School board hopefuls discuss homework policy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A7

    Walkers welcome to join Sierra Club outings

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Project Linus seeks donations

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Forum

    The magic is long gone

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    What’s next with Ebola?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    More theories on the abstention

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Rights beget responsibilities

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Water returns to its source

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    A solution to the drought

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Experience nature’s treasures

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Subs have other concerns

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    .

    Sports

    DHS footballers take on Pleasant Grove

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Bye No. 2 comes at perfect time for nicked-up UCD

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Shhh. Are Aggie women BWC’s best-kept secret?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    Bump, set, playoffs: Blue Devil girls clinch spot in postseason

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggies expect a bonny meeting in Sacramento

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    UCD roundup: Preseason awards roll in for Aggie hoopster Hawkins

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

     
    Sharks suffer from road woes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    DMTC plans ‘My Fair Lady’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

     
    Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to perform

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Calling all artists for upcoming show

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    ‘St. Vincent:’ Quite a character

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Rumpledethumps to play at Village Homes Performers’ Circle

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

     
    Car Care: Five things to ask yourself when shopping for a new vehicle

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B7

    .

    Obituaries

    Lewis Melvin Dudman

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Ann Foley Scheuring

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, October 24, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B3