Potentially beneficial bacteria may be living amongst your boogers
There’s a 70 percent chance that scientists would be able to find a new antibiotic on my second-grader’s fingers, assuming they could get those fingers out of her nose. Our noses are home to many things, including a swath of microbes doing their best to stake out their own patch of nostril in order to eat the sugars and amino acids found there. Scarcity of space and resources mean that they need to compete though, which may prove advantageous to human health, even without too much nose-picking.
One microbial rivalry researchers have found in human noses is between Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus lugdunensis. S. aureus is present in around 30 percent of our noses, but if it’s not held at bay, it can lead to potentially fatal infections related to the skin, heart and blood. Hospitals, in particular, have to guard against Staph infections, especially since there are now antibiotic-resistant strains that we simply can’t do much about. Fortunately, it looks like S. lugdunensis may be able to assist in this fight.
In a sample of hospitalized patients, it’s easy to see how these two bacteria don’t get along. Under six percent of the sampled patients had both bacteria living side-by-side in their noses, whereas people lacking S. lugdunensis were much more likely to be home to S. aureus. Scientists investigated this dynamic more closely, growing sample of both bacteria in petri dishes while isolating different genes in S. lugdunensis. They were then able to hone in on the gene that allows this presumably benign bacteria to defeat both its S. aureus and Enterococcus neighbors.
Application or prevention?
The antibiotic agent produced by S. lugdunensis has been dubbed lugdunin, and while it’s promising, doctors aren’t ready to start prescribing it to humans at this point. It was found to clear up a skin infection in mice, but there’s a chance that it did so at the cost of some of the mice’s cell membranes in that area. Our noses obviously hold up well enough to this bacterial conflict, but we may have to settle for S. lugdunensis to just be a handy probiotic to help us avoid infections in the first place, rather than synthetically introduce lugdunin to fight these battles outside our nose.
In the mean time, my kid needs to really wash her hands until we confirm she’s in the 70 percent with S. lugdunensis and not S. aureus up her nose.
Source: The nose knows how to fight staph by Eva Emerson, Science News