Learning about human skin’s microbiota

2014

Challenge

Healthy skin is the natural home to myriad bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Many of these microbes are difficult to culture and thus have not been identified as part of the skin-associated community. Using DNA sequencing to catalog the microbial communities in healthy volunteers would provide insight into human health and empower clinical studies that explore how shifts in microbial communities contribute to skin diseases.

Advance

Dermatologist Heidi Kong, M.D., M.H.Sc., geneticist Julie Segre, Ph.D., and colleagues performed large-scale DNA sequencing on skin swabs from 18 distinct areas, including the chest, forehead, toe web, and inner elbow, from 15 healthy volunteers. Their analysis showed that the skin demonstrated a surprising diversity, dependent on the specific location and individual.

Impact

Having pioneered these investigations in healthy volunteers, IRP researchers are now exploring changes in skin microbial communities associated with common skin disorders—such as childhood eczema—and rare disorders, such as those associated with primary immune deficiencies.

Publications

Oh J, Byrd AL, Deming C, Conlan S, NISC Comparative Sequence Program, Kong HH, Segre, JA. (2014). Biogeography and individuality shape the functional divergence of the human skin metagenome. Nature. 514(7520), 59-64.