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Diversity of human skin bacteria revealed

First large-scale skin microbes inventory charts types, locales of bacteria

PHILADELPHIA — Most people think of rain forests as hot spots for biological diversity, but new research suggests that belly buttons are also rich ecosystems. That’s one finding from the first attempt to take a large-scale inventory of microbes on human skin.

In recent years scientists have come to appreciate that people are super organisms, composed not just of human tissue, but also of microbes galore. Human skin is covered by a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites, says Elizabeth Grice, a genomics researcher at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. Most of the time, people and their microbes live in harmony, but people with skin conditions such as eczema often also struggle with skin infections.

“The skin is two square meters of ecosystem,” Grice said November 13 in Philadelphia at a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

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