UO research uncovers a unique microbial cloud that surrounds people

Former UO researcher James Meadow discovered a unique microbial cloud around people
Former UO postdoctoral researcher James Meadow

It turns out there’s more to “The Cloud” than digital data.

Research done at the UO shows that we all have our own microbial cloud made up of bacteria exuded by the skin and breath, and each cloud is unique to that person. Think of it as an organic signature or even a bacterial data cloud.

The research was led by James Meadow, who until earlier this year was a postdoctoral researcher in the UO’s Biology and the Built Environment Center. Meadow is now a data scientist at San Francisco-based Phylagen Inc.

According to the study, published in the journal PeerJ, Meadow and his UO colleagues conducted two different studies that examined more than 14 million gene sequences from thousands of different types of bacteria. The study looked at 312 samples from air and dust collected from 11 different people in a sanitized experimental chamber.

"We expected that we would be able to detect the human microbiome in the air around a person, but we were surprised to find that we could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud," Meadow said.

The research exploded on the Internet, with more than 300 news outlets picking up the story. Among them were Time, the BBC, National Public Radio, The Atlantic and Wired. The original news release is available here, and the study itself is here.