Bacterial Fingerprints on Your Keyboard Tell More Than What You Ate
A new study conducted by microbiologists at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that researchers were able to distinguish individual computer users simply by testing keyboards for the skin bacteria left behind by their fingers. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Rob Knight and his microbiologist colleagues wrote that their findings prove both "that bacterial DNA can be recovered from relatively small surfaces" and "individuals leave unique bacterial 'fingerprints' on their keyboards." As Wired reports, the study marks another step in the young and growing field of microbial science, and may prove that skin bacterial patterns are actually diverse enough to distinguish between individual humans. A 2008 study, by contrast, found a relatively "low level of interpersonal variation" in skin microbiomes compared to other forms of bacteria.
Although these most recent findings seem to be tailor-made for forensic and crime fighting, microbiologist Jacques Ravel says it will be some time before we start seeing keyboard swabs turn up in courtrooms. According to Ravel, researchers still need to prove that skin microbiomes don't change drastically over time, a caveat that's key for forensic scientists, who often collect samples from objects long after human contact was last made.
The one area that the findings could have a more immediate impact is in studies of identical twins. A 2008 study found that identical twins demonstrate a substantial variety in gut bacteria pattern composition, suggesting, as Knight writes, that "the collective genomes of our microbial symbionts may be more personally identifying than our own human genomes." So while we may not be seeing microbiome tests in courtrooms anytime soon, the bacteria coating our prints may not just infer where we've been, but how biology indicates who we are. [From: Wired]