Human Skin Microbiome Differs From Other Mammals Interview with:
Dr. Josh D. Neufeld PhD
Professor; Department of Biology
Ashley A. Ross MSc
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Given important implications for skin health and our relationship to the microbial world, we are curious about the microorganisms on human skin, how these microbial communities are formed and passed on from generation to generation, and how these communities differ between mammalian species.

Our main finding is that human skin microbial communities are distinct from nearly all of the other animals that we sampled, in terms of both diversity and composition.

We also found initial evidence that animals and their skin microbial communities have co-evolved over time. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Readers should take away that the microbial communities on our skin are different from those associated with the majority of other mammals we sampled. It may be that humans wash off the “outermost” layer of environmental microbes that other mammals maintain and/or that modern human hygiene practices have drastically changed our skin microbial flora, with unknown longterm consequences. In addition, we report first evidence for phylosymbiosis between skin microbes and their corresponding mammalian hosts, which means that as mammalian species evolve, their associated microbial communities shift in similar proportions. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future research will sample animals from different continents to determine how larger geographic distances influence the mammalian skin microbiome, in addition to ideally comparing our results to equivalent skin microbiome data from humans that are not exposed to modern hygienic practices and antibiotic exposure. In addition, targeting more variable genes for our samples will offer greater resolution to confirm that the host-microbe patterns that we see really do reflect co-evolution of animals and their skin bacteria. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We emphasize that the vast majority of organisms on our skin do not make us sick. In contrast, our surface microbes play an integral role in skin health, with important protective effects against pathogens.

Basic research discoveries related to the skin microbiome, such as this one, lay firm foundations for future studies investigating skin ailments that may be caused by changes in resident skin microbial communities.


Ashley A. Ross, Kirsten M. Müller, J. Scott Weese, Josh D. Neufeld. Comprehensive skin microbiome analysis reveals the uniqueness of human skin and evidence for phylosymbiosis within the class Mammalia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201801302 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1801302115

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Last Updated on June 14, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD