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Article

Is Your Skin Crawling?

Photo credit: Julia Segre / National Human Genome / Research Institute


Scientists always knew that healthy skin played host to bacteria. But a recent study revealed that this bacterial
community is far larger and more diverse than scientists realized.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Achieve3000, June 19, 2009). There's a zoo full of critters living on your skin
bacterial critters, that is. Scientists always knew that healthy skin played host to bacteria, but a recent study
revealed that this bacterial community is far larger and more diverse than they realized.
Trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes naturally coexist, not only on the skin, but also in the digestive
tract and other places throughout the body. That's not a bad thing. Bacteria may make your sneakers stinky,
"but they also keep your skin moist and make sure if you get a wound that [dangerous] bacteria [from outside
the body] don't enter your bloodstream," said Julia Segre, a genetics specialist at the National Institutes of
Health (NIH). Most of the body's bacteria are actually good, she said. "We take a lot for granted in terms of
how much [our body's bacteria] contribute to our health."
Officials from the NIH wanted to learn more about the types of bacteria that inhabit different areas on the
human body and which of those bacteria are necessary to sustain good health. To acquire that information, the
organization launched the "Human Microbiome Project," which entailed recruiting 10 healthy volunteers and
collecting samples of bacteria from 20 parts of their bodies. The samples contained 112,000 bacteria. Scientists
decoded the genes of these bacteria and found that they represented 1,000 strains, or species. That's hundreds
more than scientists thought existed on human skin.
Scientists also found that the human body is home to several ecosystems that support different kinds of
bacteria. A person's body is like Earth, in that different living things live in different locations. The moist
underarm is like a rainforest, while the dry inside of the forearm is a desert. Each ecosystem harbors distinctly
different bacteria suited to its exclusive environment. In fact, the bacteria under two unrelated people's
underarms are more similar than the bacteria that live in two different locations on the same person, such as the
underarm and forearm.
The number of different types of bacteria also differed, depending on the location. In the study, the forearm was
the most diverse spot, with an average of 44 species of bacteria. Behind the ears was the least diverse area, with
an average of 19 species. It's not yet clear how many of these bacteria naturally exist on the body and how
many the study subjects had picked up from doorknobs and other places. When researchers re-checked five of
the volunteers a few months after the first study, the bacteria in some spots, such as the nostril, proved pretty
stable. Bacteria in other spots, including the forearm, had changed quite a bit.
Some of the bacteria found on the skin were beneficial to the body, while other bacteria were types that have

the potential to cause disease or illness. For example, one common skin bacterium, Staph epidermidis, is found
all over the body and helps protect us from its nasty cousin, Staph aureus, which can cause skin infections, as
well as diseases such as pneumonia. About one-third of people are thought to carry Staph aureus on their skin
or in their nose, even though carrying the bacteria does not mean they will necessarily end up with an infection.
The NIH study could help scientists answer some important questions. One question is: how do the bacteria
found on the skin of people with skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis differ from the bacteria on healthy
skin? Another question is: are antibacterial soaps OK to use, or are they responsible for killing the beneficial
bacteria as well as the bad?
"In trying to get rid of the bad guys, are we getting rid of the good guys?" asked Dr. Marin Blaser, who
researches infectious diseases.
Scientists hope that future studies will answer these questions. For now, Segre says, it's important to remember
that the bacteria on our skin serve a functiontheir existence has positive ramifications, in many cases.
"I'm a mother of two small children; I believe very strongly in sanitation, washing your hands," Segre said.
"[But] we have to understand that we live in harmony with bacteria and [that] they are part of us and not just
bad and smelly."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Dictionary
entail (verb) to require
microbiome (adjective) having to do with a group of living things that exist in a certain environment, on a very small scale
ramification (noun) consequence

Activity
1. The best alternate headline for this article would be __________.
Scientific Study Identifies Dangerous Staph Bacteria Strains on Human Skin
Scientific Study Reveals Diverse Bacterial Ecosystems on Human Skin
Human Digestive Tract Genes Decoded by Human Microbiome Project
Human Microbiome Project Bacteria From Infecting Wounds
2. According to the article, why are bacteria, fungi, and other microbes beneficial to human health?
They ensure that even insufficient sanitation doesn't result in negative consequences on the human body.
They keep the skin moist and prevent other more dangerous strains of bacteria from entering the body or the
bloodstream.

They support diverse ecosystems, ensuring that the human body can avoid contact with dangerous types of bacteria.
They condition the skin in order to actively prevent the onset of serious skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
3. Which is the closest antonym for the word entail?
Inspire
Repeat
Suggest
Exclude
4. Based on the article, which is most likely to happen?
Scientists will discover a method to completely eliminate all bacteria, leaving only beneficial organisms on human
skin.
Scientists will decide to reproduce human bacterial ecosystems in the rainforest to prevent further harm to species
there.
Scientists will recommend that people wash their hands less frequently to avoid harming any bacteria.
Scientists will further classify bacterial strains into more specific subcategories of species.
5. The article states:
Scientists also found that the human body is home to several ecosystems that support different kinds of
bacteria. A person's body is like Earth, in that different living things live in different locations. The
moist underarm is like a rainforest, while the dry inside of the forearm is a desert. Each ecosystem
harbors distinctly different bacteria suited to its exclusive environment.
Look at the passage above and think about the article. Which would be the closest synonym for the word exclusive?
Inferior
Predicted
Replicated
Singular
6. The article states:
In the study, the forearm was the most diverse spot, with an average of 44 species of bacteria. Behind
the ears was the least diverse area, with an average of 19 species. It's not yet clear how many of these
bacteria naturally exist on the body and how many the study subjects had picked up from doorknobs
and other places. When researchers re-checked five of the volunteers a few months after the first study,
the bacteria in some spots, such as the nostril, proved pretty stable. Bacteria in other spots, including
the forearm, had changed quite a bit.
The author's purpose for including this passage was to __________.

Emphasize that the origin of bacteria can be determined by studying the diversity of each ecosystem
Describe the existence of bacterial ecosystems on household objects, such as doorknobs and other places
Describe the characteristics of the skin in areas where beneficial bacterial ecosystems thrive
Emphasize that the diversity of bacterial ecosystems on the human body over time is variable, depending on location
7. Which of these is most important to include in a summary of this article?
Scientists question whether or not antibacterial soaps are killing too many of the body's good bacteria.
Julia Segre, a genetics specialist and the mother of two small children, led a recent NIH study.
In a recent study, scientists looked at the forearms and the area behind the ears of 10 volunteers.
In a recent study, scientists found thousands of types of bacteria living on people's skin.
8. This article is placed in a category of news called "Health." In which other category would this article fit best?
Economic Outlook
Computers & Technology
Science Scene
World Political News