Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

March 15, 2013

Roller Derby players share shoulder microbes

Whether they're skating shoulder-to-shoulder to block the other team or laying each other out with body checks, roller derby players have a lot of skin-to-skin contact. That contact spreads more than sweat, according to a new study. Researchers have found that players come into a tournament bearing a team signature of bacteria on their shoulders-but leave sharing microbes with their opponents.

The study adds to knowledge of how microbes colonize our skin and how much our microbial communities-or microbiomes-change when we contact other people or surfaces, whether it's a doorknob at home or medical equipment in a hospital. "This is an important step forward in our understanding of how we share our microbiomes when we interact with other people," says Jack Gilbert, an environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois, who was not involved in the work.

The skin microbiome plays key roles in health and disease: It can carry pathogenic bacteria, but most species are harmless and may even contribute to our health. A study last year, for instance, found that good-guy skin bacteria help train the immune system to fight pathogens. And just last month, researchers showed that microbes on the face can protect against acne.

Yet, scientists know very little about how our resident bacteria come to live with us, or how these populations change over time. "There are certain [microbes] we all have, and certain things that are unique to individuals, but we really have no idea where we acquire these in our lifetime," says James Meadow, the study's lead author and a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Roller derby provided an ideal setting to study the microbial effects of skin-to-skin contact. It is, after all, a full-contact sport, and senior author Jessica Green, who is also a microbiologist at the University of Oregon, was once a roller derby player herself.

In flat track roller derby, a pack of eight blockers (four from each team) plays offense and defense at the same time. They aim to help their point scorer, known as the jammer, through the pack, while stopping the other team's jammer from getting through. The more times a jammer laps the pack, the more points she gets. The players interfere with each other by means of legal hits, coming mainly from the hips and shoulders. (Punching and elbowing are outlawed.) This means that a player's shoulders often contact those of her opponents. Teammates also contact each other as they skate in formation, clogging up the opposing jammer's path through the pack.

During a full 60-minute bout, the researchers hypothesized, the players' shoulders would have plenty of opportunities to swap skin bacteria. So they sampled skaters' shoulders before and after two bouts in a tournament hosted by local league Emerald City of Eugene.

"These teams came to the tournament from different places, and we were kind of shocked to find out that they had a unique team microbiome," Meadow says. "In other words, we could have picked a player out at random, before she played, and I could tell you which team she played for just by sampling the bacteria on her upper arm."

 After each bout, though, the samples told a different story: the teams' microbiomes converged, having more species in common. For example, before Emerald City played Silicon Valley, members of the two teams shared 28.2% of their bacterial communities. After the bout, the overlap was up to 32.7%, the team reported Tuesday in PeerJ.

 It's possible that the microbiomes became more similar because heat and perspiration made the players' skin more hospitable to certain bacteria. But the researchers were able to "kind of rule out exercise and sweating," Meadow says, by considering factors such as the time it takes bacteria to reproduce. At 20 minutes per generation, a mere three generations in an hour of playing time is unlikely to have caused the dramatic shift they saw. Gilbert agrees with the researchers' interpretation that physical contact, not sweating, probably caused the shift.

This work didn't study what happened to the players' microbiomes in the days after the tournament, and more work is needed to understand those longer-term changes, Meadow says. "What we're interested in is how our choices affect the bacteria that associate with us," says Meadow, whose research focuses on how microbes live in the "built environment," which includes everything in buildings, such as the ventilation systems and the chairs we sit in. "This study highlights that our interactions with people around us do appear to change our microbiome," he says. "When you ride to work on the subway and bump arms with someone, is that small contact enough to share something?"

Learning how microbes travel is also important for understanding the spread of disease. In the past, Meadow says, our knowledge about the skin microbiome came from medical studies attempting to retrace the steps of a single pathogen, for example through a hospital during an outbreak. But research like this, he says, "gives us an opportunity to look at how healthy people share their whole communities of microbes, because that's really what's going on. Pathogens are a very small part of what we're carrying around on us."

Microbiome research, Gilbert says, needs to map the "highways and byways" of how microbes travel, because pathogens could travel the same routes as healthy bacteria. "It's very important that we understand what those routes are," he says. "What we really need is a predictive road map, a TomTom for pathogens."

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Web Extra
  • Vader Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 22, 2014

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Expectations too high for a rehabbing Woods

    Tiger Woods finished near bottom last weekend at Royal Liverpool, drawing out his drought of major tournament wins. Despite the disappointing showing, Woods' return to form remains a matter of when, not if.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 110720 Walmart.jpg Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 22, 2014

  • Sparring justices find little disagreement at the opera

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed a different view of U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday when she described about her passion for opera, one she shares with Justice Antonin Scalia.

    July 22, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 22, 2014

  • NIA Biz Column art 1 072114 Electric cars will get charge out of new IBEW 237 battery station

    Those who drive electric cars now have a free location to stop and charge their batteries, thanks to a new charging station recently built at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 237 at 8803 Niagara Falls Blvd. Beside offering free charging, the stations gave a class of apprentice electricians a chance to learn how to assemble the stations. "We think it's a great training tool," said Russ Quarantello, a business manager for the union.

    July 21, 2014 4 Photos

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Large Family to Share NJ Lottery Winnings U.S. Flights to Israel Resume After Ban Lifted Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans Raw: National Guard Helps Battle WA Wildfires Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee Senators Push to End Hamas Threat in Cease-Fire A Young Victim's Premonition, Hug Before MH17 Raw: Deadly Storm Hits Virginia Campground Death Penalty Expert: 'This is a Turning Point' Raw: MH17 Victim's Bodies Arrive in Netherlands
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page