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Malassezia

Yes, It’s True: There’s Fungus Among Us

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A fluorescent pink blob with a blue-green shaft surrounded by purple and blue dots

Caption: A fluorescent microscope image of a human hair shaft in the skin surrounded by bacteria (purple) and fungi (blue).
Credit: Alex Valm, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH.

Athlete’s foot, ringworm, diaper rash, dandruff, some cases of sinusitis, and vaginal yeast infections are all caused by fungi. These microscopic co-travelers live in the air, water, soil, and, so it happens, on our body. NIH researchers have just completed the first census of the fungi that live on the human body, and it’s quite a diverse collection [1].

The researchers used Q-tips and toenail clippings to sample 14 sites from 10 healthy human volunteers and then analyzed the DNA to determine the identity of the fungi in these locations. They focused on sites—like the back of the head, nostril, feet, and groin, for example—that are frequently plagued with diseases thought to be caused by fungi. (The same team of researchers took a similar approach a few years back to catalog all the bacteria that live on human skin [2].)