Can Skin Bacteria Be Good for You?
In the wake of the MRSA scare, most of us have become hypervigilant about antibacterial tactics such as using hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. Yet could we be getting rid of beneficial germs in the process? A study published in the journal Science reported that "skin microbiota" – the colonies of bacteria that make themselves at home on your epidermis – may have a protective function. The scientists, led by Shruti Naik of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found that immunity to a cutaneous pathogen was "critically dependent on the skin but not gut microbiota."
They further noted that their results underscore the importance of the microbiota as a "distinctive feature of tissue compartmentalization and provide insight into mechanisms of immune regulation."
MedPage Today quotes Naik as saying, "The skin bacteria are really critical for controlling immune cells in the skin. They educate immune cells, tell them what to do. The pathogen is stealthy, like a burglar. It doesn't want the immune system to detect it. The commensals stimulate the immune system, acting as an alarm saying, 'There is a bug here. You need to fight and ward off this bug.'" Commensals are organisms participating in a symbiotic relationship in which one species derives some benefit while the other is unaffected.
Naik continued by saying, "It's becoming more and more clear that bacteria that live with you are really important for human health."
The researchers say that the effect of our current hygiene practices on these critical relationships is still unknown and deserves further study.