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PeerJ. 2014 Jun 24;2:e447. doi: 10.7717/peerj.447. eCollection 2014.

Mobile phones carry the personal microbiome of their owners.

Author information

1
Biology and the Built Environment Center, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Oregon , Eugene, OR , USA.
2
Biology and the Built Environment Center, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Oregon , Eugene, OR , USA ; Santa Fe Institute , Santa Fe, NM , USA.

Abstract

Most people on the planet own mobile phones, and these devices are increasingly being utilized to gather data relevant to our personal health, behavior, and environment. During an educational workshop, we investigated the utility of mobile phones to gather data about the personal microbiome - the collection of microorganisms associated with the personal effects of an individual. We characterized microbial communities on smartphone touchscreens to determine whether there was significant overlap with the skin microbiome sampled directly from their owners. We found that about 22% of the bacterial taxa on participants' fingers were also present on their own phones, as compared to 17% they shared on average with other people's phones. When considered as a group, bacterial communities on men's phones were significantly different from those on their fingers, while women's were not. Yet when considered on an individual level, men and women both shared significantly more of their bacterial communities with their own phones than with anyone else's. In fact, 82% of the OTUs were shared between a person's index and phone when considering the dominant taxa (OTUs with more than 0.1% of the sequences in an individual's dataset). Our results suggest that mobile phones hold untapped potential as personal microbiome sensors.

KEYWORDS:

Built environment; Cell phone; Human microbiome; Indoor microbiology; Mobile phone; Personal microbiome; Quantified self

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