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Research on Skin Bacteria Sets New Treatments in Motion

Posted: June 19, 2009

A study done by the National Institutes of Health on the bacteria on different areas of the skin has potential implications for skin issues such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and more.

The health of our skin—one of the body's first lines of defense against illness and injury—depends upon the delicate balance between our own cells and the millions of bacteria and other one-celled microbes that live on its surface. To better understand this balance, National Institutes of Health researchers have set out to explore the skin's microbiome, which is all of the DNA, or genomes, of all of the microbes that inhabit human skin.

Their initial analysis, published in the journal Science, reveals that our skin is home to a much wider array of bacteria than previously thought. The study also shows that at least among healthy people, the greatest influence on bacterial diversity appears to be body location. For example, the bacteria that live under your arms likely are more similar to those under another person's arm than they are to the bacteria that live on your forearm.

"Our work has laid an essential foundation for researchers who are working to develop new and better strategies for treating and preventing skin diseases," said Julia A. Segre, Ph.D., of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), who was the study's senior author. "The data generated by our study are freely available to scientists around the world. We hope this will speed efforts to understand the complex genetic and environmental factors involved in eczema, psoriasis, acne, antibiotic-resistant infections and many other disorders affecting the skin."

Drawing on the power of modern DNA sequencing technology and computational analysis, the research team from NHGRI, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the NIH Clinical Center uncovered a far more diverse collection of microbes on human skin than had been detected by traditional methods that involved growing microbial samples in the laboratory.