Mites are eating your delicious face right now (Wired UK)

53B_VideoYour Wild Life Project

Every single one of you — 100 percent of you reading this right
now — has face mites. Before you break out the exfoliating scrubs
and disinfectant, it’s completely normal to have little animals
living on your skin. And your pore pets are cute! Look at it wiggle
its wee stubby legs!

New research suggests that no matter how scrupulous your
personal hygiene, you still have face mites in your pores.
Specifically:

“Within our samples, 100 percent of people over 18 years of age
appear to host at least one Demodexspecies, suggesting that
Demodexmites may be universal associates of adult humans.”
Ubiquity and Diversity of Human-Associated Demodex Mites.
August 27, 2014. PLoS ONE 9(8). Thoemmes MS, Fergus DJ, Urban J,
Trautwein M, Dunn RR. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106265

Humans are big, sweaty, oily mammals. We contain niches (literal
and figurative) in which organisms live and evolve. Our network of
skin caverns offers food and shelter to two different species
of mites: Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis.

D. brevis is slightly shorter and rounder, and spends most of
its life nestled deeply inside a hair follicle sebum
(oil) gland. D. folliculorum live more shallowly in the hair
follicle, and occasionally take an evening constitutional walk
around your face to see what’s going on in the outside world and
find greener hair follicle pastures. Oh, and to look for a mite
hookup and lay eggs.

Typically there is only one brevis mite per sebaceous
gland, and three-to-six folliculorum mites per hair follicle. Since
you have 5 million hair follicles on you…. OK, perhaps that isn’t
as reassuring a factoid as I had hoped.

We’ve known about these mites for over a hundred years; they were first described in 1842. They
are, aside from a weak correlation with rosacea,
completely harmless. What these mites do and how we got them,
though, is only beginning to be understood.


Face Mite sampling at a scientific conference in 2014

Lauren Nichols, Your Wild Life


Meet your mites
The Dunn lab at North Carolina
State University
studies the ecosystems of our bodies. Their Belly Button Project,
for example, looked at the diversity of bacteria found in our
navels.

Hundreds of people over the last few years have filled out
long release forms at the North
Carolina Museum of Natural Science
, and lined up to have
their faces examined. I’m a willing participant; in 2013 I had
my face scraped by scientists from this face mite project. Here’s
gallery of face
mites
 from scientists and science writers from all over
the world.

There are a lot of different ways to collect mites; using plain
old scotch tape works reasonably well, but hair plucking and
scraping also is used. This group of researchers gently “expressed
sebum from follicles.” It’s a bit like squeezing a zit, and then
scraping up what comes out with mineral oil and a spatula.

A paradox of interest to the researchers was a discrepancy
between how many people have living mites collected from their
faces, and how many living mites are collected on cadavers. Over
the last 100 years, scientists have been steadily scraping
faces of both live and dead people, and the numbers remain
remarkably consistent.

About 20 percent of living people who had non-invasive
sampling of their face have living mites collected. Cadavers,
more tolerant of rough facial sampling and eyelash plucking, all
contain live facial mites — 100 percent of corpses. (There is
a remarkably
long and rich history of cadaver facial mite sampling
. Sadly,
most of these studies date from 1908-1933, which means I can’t ask
how one finds 100 dead people to sample, and then WHY.)

The researchers then looked for DNA from mites in
a sub-sample of 19 individuals over 18, and a second
group of 10 individuals that were 18 year-old teenagers. 100
percent of the adults sampled in their research had mite DNA
collected from their skin, which suggests we all have mites living
on us — they just aren’t effectively collected with tape or gentle
scraping.


Yes, a male face mite has a penis. Here it is

USDA Confocal and Electron Microscopy Unit


In the young adult group, only 70 percent had mite
DNA on their skin. This is consistent with historical sampling
results as well. You aren’t born with these mites; baby nuzzling
helps inoculate our offspring and keep the mite populations
growing. As teens and young adults “nuzzle” each other, that also
spreads the mites around.

Though this new research has a small sample
size, it adds to a large number of studies that conclude mites
are in your pores, having sex, right now.

Although, not pooping on you. Neither species has an
anus; they just store up all the poop until they die. After death
their grip relaxes and they are released onto the surface of your
skin; their DNA and waste joins the oily layer keeping your
epidermis moisturised.

But wait, there’s more

Once the researchers had genetic information about the mites, as
well as geographic information about their hosts, they could start
to answer some questions about just how related we and our mite
populations are.

The two different mite species are not close
relatives, and appear to have been acquired from different hosts in
our evolutionary past. D. brevis is more closely related
to dog mites than the D. folliculorum mites they share hair
follicle space with.

Geographic variation in mite diversity was also
unusual; D. brevis mites of people in China, North, and South
America were far more genetically diverse than D.
folliculorum mites. This matches the biology of the two
species pretty well. The larger folliculorum species is more
gregarious and active, so mixes up its genes more often. The
smaller brevis species is more isolated, so mutations and genetic
drift accumulate as genetic variation in isolated little pore
populations. The variation also seems to echo our human genetic
history; as human populations split and diverged 40,000 years ago,
so did our mite lineages.


Excitement, surprise, and horror upon discovering the life on her face

Lauren Nichols, Your Wild Life


This is the first paper to come out of the face mite
project; researchers hope to further investigate the genetic
relations between humans and our mites. Our tiny little hitchhikers
could tell us a great deal about human history.

You contain multitudes

I know the reaction of a lot of people to this news will be a bit
like the photo at right; mixed horror and wonder. Embrace the
wonder! Human bodies are amazing; from the dense rainforest habitat
of our groins and armpits to desert wastelands of elbows, we are an
ecosystem.

Why not re-assess how you view the collection of meat that
carries you through the day, and love the one you’re with.
Including all the face mites, yeast, and bacteria on your animal
self.

This article originally appeared on Wired.com

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29 August 2014 | 10:37 am – Source: wired.co.uk

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