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Germ Cloud

Remember Pigpen, the Peanuts character we all chuckled about as kids? Well, the joke’s on us. New research finds that each of us really does walk around with our own microbial cloud.

And the collection of bacteria in those clouds is as unique as a fingerprint — so unique it can identify us.

Trillions of bacteria live on and in the human body, making up what scientists call our microbiome. A 2015 University of Oregon study published in the journal PeerJ found that our bodies emit millions of bacteria into the air around us every day.

Researchers placed 11 volunteers in a sanitized chamber one at a time, then collected microbial sequence samples from the air and dust after each person left. Examining thousands of types of bacteria and more than 14 million sequences, the scientists found that each person could be identified by the specific combinations of bacteria remaining in the chamber.

The research might help in understanding the mechanisms involved in the spread of infectious diseases. The results also may have forensic applications — for example, to identify or determine where a person has been. It is still unclear, however, whether individual occupants can be detected in a crowd of other people.

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