Temporary establishment of bacteria from indoor plant leaves and soil on human skin

Environ Microbiome. 2022 Dec 26;17(1):61. doi: 10.1186/s40793-022-00457-7.


BACKGROUND: Plants are found in a large percentage of indoor environments, yet the potential for bacteria associated with indoor plant leaves and soil to colonize human skin remains unclear. We report results of experiments in a controlled climate chamber to characterize bacterial communities inhabiting the substrates and leaves of five indoor plant species, and quantify microbial transfer dynamics and residence times on human skin following simulated touch contact events. Controlled bacterial propagule transfer events with soil and leaf donors were applied to the arms of human occupants and repeatedly measured over a 24-h period using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing.

RESULTS: Substrate samples had greater biomass and alpha diversity compared to leaves and baseline skin bacterial communities, as well as dissimilar taxonomic compositions. Despite these differences in donor community diversity and biomass, we observed repeatable patterns in the dynamics of transfer events. Recipient human skin bacterial communities increased in alpha diversity and became more similar to donor communities, an effect which, for soil contact only, persisted for at least 24 h. Washing with soap and water effectively returned communities to their pre-perturbed state, although some abundant soil taxa resisted removal through washing.

CONCLUSIONS: This study represents an initial characterization of bacterial relationships between humans and indoor plants, which represent a potentially valuable element of biodiversity in the built environment. Although environmental microbiota are unlikely to permanently colonize skin following a single contact event, repeated or continuous exposures to indoor biodiversity may be increasingly relevant for the functioning and diversity of the human microbiome as urbanization continues.

PMID:36572917 | DOI:10.1186/s40793-022-00457-7

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