photo credit: Tasha Sturm

The handprint that you see in the petri dish above belongs to microbiology lab technician Tasha Sturm’s 8-year-old son. And as you can imagine, many people on the internet saw it and…went a little silly (to put it nicely). I believe “kill it with fire” was the general response.

The image was posted on Microbe World, and it shows the different growths that were cultivated from his hand after playing outdoors. It was allowed to incubate for several days, and here, we can see the yeasts, fungi, and bacteria.

However, Sturm will be conducting tests to determine exactly what the various growths are.

Many reports have called this “disgusting” and “horrifying” and “mind-bendingly awful.” But not too many call it what it really is: Absolutely Necessary. In order to have a strong immune system, you need to be exposed to bacteria. It allows our bodies to develop defenses and, ultimately, protect itself when a real threat comes along.

In fact, you are always already home to a plethora of microbes. They make up some 90% of the living cells in your body.

Close-up of the bottom-right corner of the handprint. Image credit: Tasha Sturm

Since there are 10 times more microbial cells than there are human cells, technically, one would be correct in asserting that we are only 10% human, while we are 90% microbial. In fact, by weight, bacteria, fungi, insects, and viruses (despite their rather small size) far outweigh that of humanity + our buildings. Of course, one gigantic reason is that they extend beneath the soil huge distances (compared to our just taking up the surface).

In any case, unfortunately, due to our over-sanitized society, many people are not getting the exposure to bacteria and other organisms that they need in order to have a health immune system.

Of course, you shouldn’t run out and fraternize with someone who is sick, but you shouldn’t use antibacterial wipes at every chance either. Indeed, these wipes don’t even really do anything for you, except cause the bacteria to become more resistant.

Really, you are better just washing your hands. As the Center for Disease Control notes,

An essential part of preventing the spread of infection in the community and at home is proper hygiene. This includes handwashing and cleaning shared items and surfaces. Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs. To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers (this does not include professionals in the healthcare setting) using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap.


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