Visualizing the Ocular Microbiome

Researchers are beginning to study in depth the largely uncharted territory of the eye’s microbial composition.

Rina Shaikh-Lesko
May 12, 2014

FLICKR, SAM BALDWhen researchers started using modern molecular diagnostic tools such as PCR and genome sequencing to study the microbes living on and in the human body, they found much more complex ecosystems than previous generations had imagined. The Human Microbiome Project undertook a massive effort to characterize microbial communities from five sites—the gut, mouth, nose, skin, and urogenital tract. But they did not include many areas of the body that harbor microbial life, including the surface of the eye.

Ophthalmologists have treated pathogenic eye infections for many decades, and the advent of contact lenses has made such infections more common. But little is known about the bacteria that live on the surface of a healthy human eye, and how this microbial make-up differs when a pathogenic strain takes over. Many bacteria known to live on the eye are difficult to culture, making them virtually invisible to researchers. Adapting...