60-Second Science

Hard to Beat Feet for Fostering Fungus

The skin of the feet host a more diverse fungal community than other parts of the surface of the body tested in a recent study. Sophie Bushwick reports

Do fungi have a foot fetish? When researchers mapped the fungal species living on the surface of the human body, they found the skin on the feet harbors the most diverse fungal community. The work is in the journal Nature. [Keisha Findley et al, Topographic diversity of fungal and bacterial communities in human skin]

Our skins play host to a huge variety of microbes, but previous studies focused on bacteria. To expand that, researchers took skin scrapings from 10 healthy adult volunteers. They collected these samples from 14 different sites on the body, including the scalp, around the ears and nose, along the limbs, and three sites on the feet.

In most of these locations, a single genus of fungi called Malassezia dominated. But several different genera thrived on the feet. Perhaps because feet come into direct contact with the environment often, spend part of their time inside warm, moist shoes and don’t get washed nearly as much as hands.

Fungal diversity did not correspond with bacterial diversity. Clearly, different microbes prefer different types of skin. Understanding these preferences could help treat skin diseases, leaving our hides footloose and infection-free.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

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