Most people on planet Earth own a mobile cell phone. In fact, more people worldwide own mobile phones than have access to working toilets. But did you know that we share more than just an emotional connection with our phones? That they carry our personal microbiome? The human microbiome is defined as the collection of microbes (i.e. bacteria) associated with an individual’s personal effects (possessions regularly worn or carried on one’s self), which likely varies from person to person. If this seems to be too close for comfort, do not fret! There has been no direct evidence that mobile phones present infections, or present any more of an infection risk than any other possession. Cell phones are described as being “an extension of self” because many people take their cell phones with them everywhere they go. This suggests that humans and their cell phones are exposed to similar bacteria in the environment. Previous research has shown that traces of human bacteria are left in the rooms, spaces, and the outdoors we occupy, as well as on the surfaces we touch. Thus it is assumed that mobile phones carry a strong indicator of their owner’s human microbiome. To investigate this, the study collaborated with participants in an educational workshop which centered around technologies and tools commonly used in microbiology research. They started with a frequent cell phone-human contact point that would reflect the human microbiome: fingers. Cell phones could potentially be a non-invasive way to track environmental bacteria exposure, and inform how we exchange our human microbiota with our immediate, and even distant, surroundings.
Most people on planet Earth own mobile cell phones, and more people worldwide own cell phones than have access to working toilets. But did you know that mobile phones carry the personal microbiome of their owners? During an educational workshop, one study investigated cell phones to gather data about the microorganisms associated with the personal effects of an individual. This study used smartphone touchscreens to characterize the microbial communities on it and determine whether or not there was a relationship with that community and the microbial community sampled from their owners (sample taken from surface of skin on fingers). It was discovered that about 22% of the bacterial taxa on the participants’ fingers were also present on their cell phones. About 17% of the bacterial taxa on the participant’s fingers were present on other people’s phones. These percentages may seem low, but 82% of the most common bacterial taxa were shared between phones and fingers, while 96% were shared between index fingers and thumbs. Our human microbiome travels with us everywhere we go. We are constantly transferring microbes to and from surfaces around us as we regularly carry our cell phones and touch them 150 times per day on average. This study aims to show that we share much more than just an emotional connection with our cell phones; they carry our very own personal human microbiome.
Meadow, J., A. Altrichter, J. Green. 2014. Mobile phones carry the personal micro biome of their owners. PeerJ 2: e447.