Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

March 16, 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
Get the scoop!
  • 20140727-AMX-GUNS271.jpg Beretta, other gun makers heading to friendlier states

    In moving south and taking 160 jobs with it, Beretta joins several other prominent gunmakers abandoning liberal states that passed tough gun laws after the Newtown shooting.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 26, 2014

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 26, 2014

  • Lynette Rae Sampson.jpg Say what?: Woman arrested after calling EPD to complain her meth was ‘laced’

    A 54-year-old Enid woman is facing felony drug charges after allegedly calling police earlier in the week and telling them she thought her methamphetamine was laced with something. Woman to officer: "I'm glad you came."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • photo of oil tanks and fiberglass salt water tank.jpg Officials investigate oil-covered barn owls, dead birds

    “These birds got into a saltwater tank that was full. Most of it’s saltwater, but there’s the scum of oil on top of it. That’s the reason why the (Oklahoma) Corporation Commission and federal rules say that those tanks have to be covered." — Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Major County Game Warden Lt. Frank Huebert

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 25, 2014

Poll

Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue
Stocks