Jumbo phages and other big microscopic discoveries on the human skin

– Jan. 20, 2022

A microbiome is made up of a community of many different microorganisms. And these communities can be found absolutely everywhere: on animals, plants, your house, but also on your own body. And your microbiome plays many important roles in your overall health, but is still very mysterious. By looking closely at our microbiome, we can discover a whole lot about ourselves. In new research American scientists discovered hundreds of new species of skin bacteria, -fungi, and -viruses. One of the ‘big’ discoveries were 20 new species of jumbo phages.

The human microbiome

The human microbiome is incredibly important for our physical and mental health. But what does the human microbiome consist of? The microbiome is an ecosystem of thousands of viruses , bacteria , molds, archaea and yeasts . Together they are billions, and we certainly don’t know all of them nor the function they have. Scientists want to change this. For example in the field of our skin microbiome. 


American researchers took over 600 samples from the skin of twelve healthy volunteers and discovered hundreds of new skin bacteria, -molds, and -viruses. One of the ‘big’ discoveries of this research were 20 new species of jumbo phages. These viruses are three to five times bigger than a normal virus and contain more genetic material. In addition, they are so-called bacteriophages . These are viruses that target bacteria. They use the bacteria as a host to replicate themselves, and as a result, completely disable the bacteria. 

On hands and feet

These viruses were specifically found in samples taken from hands and feet. This did not surprise the researchers as we come into contact with our environments with our hands and feet. But what specific function do these viruses have in our skin-microbiome is still unknown. For this more research needs to be done. They may however form a first line of defense by eliminating potentially pathogenic bacteria from the outside.  

In its infancy

These discoveries contribute to improve our understanding of the skin-microbiome. And that is of great importance. The skin is the biggest organ of the human body and plays an important role as a barrier against many pathogens. Many skin ailments have been linked to different microbes. By looking at the skin and the  microbes we find there, we can create a better understanding of skin-health. And in addition treatment thereof.  

However, research into the skin-microbiome is still very much in its infancy. This study shows just how much there is still left to discover. This study was namely done on a small group of people with origins in North-America.  In order to create a better overview of the skin-microbiome, and thereby the health of the skin, it is important to do more research with more participants with different origins.