Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Microbial Device in Your Hand

Just looking around, you can see that many people seem to be attached to their mobile devices, checking their email or texting as they walk or chatting on the phone as they sit in a restaurant. People are also increasingly using their smartphones to track how far they run or what they eat.

Mobile phones, University of Oregon researchers report in PeerJ this week, may "hold untapped potential as personal microbiome sensors." The trio of researchers obtained microbial samples from the index finger and thumb of 17 volunteers as well as from the touchscreens of those participants' smartphones.

Eighty-two percent of the common bacteria found on the participants' fingers were also on their phones. Through 16S sequencing, the Oregon researchers found bacteria belonging to the Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Corynebacterium genera were common on the phones.

The microbiomes of men and women, the researchers note, differed, and the microbiomes of the women in the study more closely resembled that of their phones than the men did.

Still, they report that the microbiome of each person, for both men and women, in the study most closely resembled that of their own phone.

"The sample size was small, but the findings, while intuitive, were revealing," lead author James Meadow, a postdoc at Oregon, says in a statement. "This project was a proof-of-concept to see if our favorite and most closely held possessions microbially resemble us. We are ultimately interested in the possibility of using personal effects as a non-invasive way to monitor our health and our contact with the surrounding environment."