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Human Skin Harbors Many More Types of Bacteria

olony, she consulted 16S rDNA databases to determine the bacterial species present in each sample. Many bacteria in the database only exist as sequences and have nether been named or extensively studied. Those are termed SLOTUs, or species-level taxonomic units.

Taxonomy and the Study Results

To distinguish organisms from one another, biologists group and categorize them. Species or SLOTUs are small categories. There are larger groupings such as genera and phyla. Humans, for example, belong to the phylum chordata, the genus Homo and the species Homo sapiens.

The molecular method used in this study revealed differences between the bacterial populations in individuals. Other methods had previously not shown those differences.

The team found a total of 182 species or SLOTUs and 91 genera of bacteria in the skin samples.

The samples yielded mainly three phyla of bacteria:

Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria. Ninety-four point six percent of the bacteria were in these phyla. These phyla were found in all six tested individuals. When compared with earlier studies, the researchers found that these three phyla are also dominant in the esophagus and the stomach. In terms of bacterial species, however, the insides of the body, for example the stomach, and the exterior of the body, the skin, show vast differences in bacterial populations.

Skin condition can change markedly due to a variety of factors such as climate, diet, personal hygiene, and disease. But skin is never devoid of bacteria, particularly its more permanent residents. That is not bad news; after all, in healthy individuals these bacteria are not pathogens. "Without good bacteria, the body could not survive," says Dr. Gao.

The next step for the research team is to look at diseased skin. "We plan to ask the question: Are the microbes in diseased skin, in certain diseases like psoriasis or eczema, different than
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