“Body Bacteria” by Celia Berrell

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Body Bacteria  

Flaky, floaty flecks of skin

make spacecraft for our body’s bugs.

They’ll colonise most anything

from where we step to who we hug.

My bugs are different from yours.

With many species grown and mixed

to make our unique signatures.

It seems our bugs are fairly fixed.

So, could bugs be our new ID?

Like fingerprints we can compare?

Forensic science might declare

“Your bugs told us that YOU were there!”


WHEN YOU TOUCH a surface, you leave behind fingerprints—distinctive swirling patterns of oils that reveal your identity. You might also deposit traces of DNA, which can also be used to identify you. And you leave microbes. You are constantly bleeding microbes into your surroundings, and whenever you touch something, bacteria hop across from your skin.

It’s increasingly clear that everyone has a unique community of microbes—or microbiome—living on their bodies. We share species and strains but the exact roll call varies from person to person. “If you take a collection of people, their microbes will look very different but their genomes will look mostly the same,” says Curtis Huttenhower from the Harvard School of Public Health. So, could the DNA of these tiny variable residents also reveal our identity, just like fingerprints or our own DNA?

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