Did you Know, The Dust in Your Home Is Uniquely “You”?
We know fingerprints are unique. We also know the retina (the receptor film at the back of the eyeball) and the iris (the colored ring around the pupil) are one-of-a-kind.
Other distinctive characteristics that identify each of us are the position of veins, our voice, the exact shape and the features of our face, and our DNA.
Now, thanks to science, there is one more item that individuates us, or singles us out from other humans, and it isn’t even part of our body.
It is dust. Yes, dust, and specifically the dust in our homes. In fact, according to a study from the University of Colorado at Boulder, conducted in 1,200 homes across America, the microbes (bacteria and fungi) found in any given household can tell investigators:
- Where the home is located
- If there is a pet
- If there are more men than women, and vice versa
Researchers from CU-Boulder, assisted by individuals from North Carolina State University, discovered that most homes contain 2,000 types of fungus and upwards of 5,000 species of bacteria. The fungi are location-specific and identify a home’s location within 62 miles (100 kilometers). The bacteria, on the other hand, identify occupants, both human and otherwise.
No doubt other information was revealed as well: the report is quite long and – as one researcher pointed out – the only way to change this “footprint” would be to move far away and/or move all the inhabitants out and move new ones in.
Where did this uniquely personalized dust come from? You guessed it: above the doorframe, where few of us remember to run a cleaning cloth except in odd years that end in 17!
The body-sex identifiers were skin-dwelling bacteria; Corynebacterium, the armpit-odor causers, Dermabacter. Both of these dominated in mostly male households. Researchers speculated this was likely because men are larger than women are, have more surface skin to shed, bathe less often or less carefully than women, and do not use as many skin products.
Homes with more males also contained more fecal (poo) bacteria, while homes predominately female harbored more vaginal bacteria. The first may explain why IBD (irritable bowel disease; or IBS, irritable bowel syndrome) and some intestinal cancers seem to run in families. The second explains why women living in the same household eventually get their periods at the same time.
Researchers were also able to identify the presence of a dog (with 92-percent accuracy) or a cat (with 83-percent accuracy). Dogs added an additional 52 varieties of bacteria to a household’s burden of microscopic entities, cats less than half that (or 24).
Again, the tendency of cats to keep themselves cleaner than dogs appears to account for the difference. The researchers, all part of a non-scientist civilian research group, devised the study to tweak the public’s curiosity, imagination and interest. It certainly caught ours!
(On another front, we also learned that one-third of gut microbiota is common between humans, but the rest are specific to an individual person. “The compositions of our microbiota evolves throughout our entire life, from birth to old age, and is the result of different environmental influences.”)
Still, what use can we make of this information? As citizen-scientist Rob Dunn notes, we are at the same place regarding bacteria and fungi in our homes that 17th century European explorers were when encountering new lands and new plants and animals. That, is, of the more than a hundred thousand bacteria we haven’t identified, only time will tell if they are harmful or helpful. One thing we do know:
“Scientists now realize that having a dog (in the home) potentially reduces the risk that a child will develop asthma and other autoimmune disorders.”
Beyond that, we parents can only keep our homes free of potentially “bad” bacteria by testing indoor air, and by cleaning surfaces that might cause them to spread.
These surfaces include kitchen counters, tables, sinks, toilet seats and tubs and/or showers.
We can also wash hard floors and vacuum carpeting, upholstered furniture and drapes using a HEPA-type (High Efficiency Particulate Air-type) vacuum cleaner bag. The HEPA designation is a type of filter, not a brand name.
We can keep our homes clean, but we can only hope that the microbes we eliminate are the ones we don’t need.
This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Green Cleaning and was tagged with bacteria, bio-based cleaners, cats, Dermabacter, dogs, dust, environmental products, fungi, fungus, HEPA, microbe, NON-TOXIC