In recent years, the bacterial communities living in and on our bodies have captivated scientists and the public alike. The gut microbiome has been tied to diverse functions and linked to both health and disease. But researchers now know that the gastrointestinal tract is just one of the many microbial homes on the human body. Even sites once considered sterile—such as the eye and the reproductive organs—are revealing themselves to be hotbeds of diversity. Here, The Scientist looks at some of these bacterial communities outside the gut, including the vagina, the penis, the breast, the lung, and more.
Circumcision and sexual activity are but two factors that can influence the bacterial communities that inhabit male genitalia. By Tracy Vence
Although it’s far less populated than the mouth community that helps feed it, researchers increasingly appreciate the role of the lung microbiome in respiratory health. By Rina Shaikh-Lesko
Human skin, the barrier between the body and the outside world, is home to diverse microorganisms, some of which can promote immunity or fight invaders. By Jef Akst
The oral cavity contains several distinct and dynamic microbial communities, and some of these commensals may seed the body’s other microbiomes. By Tracy Vence
From the August 2014 issue:
Research on the human microbiome is booming, and scientists have moved from simply taking stock of gut flora to understanding the influence of microbes throughout the body.