Armpit Microbe Sampling

Armpit Microbes

Public Science | Your Wild Life Projects

The Armpit Microbes project is a collaborative effort to figure out exactly what kinds of microbes are living in our armpits, what those microbes might be doing in there, and if/how those microbes differ among people and our closest evolutionary relatives (primates!).

Your Wild Life blog posts: Armpit Microbes

About the Project

You responded overwhelmingly to belly buttons so why not explore another body part… the armpit? Our friends Julie Horvath, Sarah Council and Julie Urban from the Nature Research Center @ the NC Museum of Natural Sciences are leading a collaborative effort to figure out exactly what kinds of microbes are living in our armpits, what those microbes might be doing in there, and if/how those microbes differ among people and our closest evolutionary relatives (primates!)

In the summer of 2012, we initiated the Armpit Life project with PitStart. We recruited 18 volunteers who experimentally altered their use of deodorant or antiperspirant for one week to help us understand how the skin microbiome changes with underarm product use and disuse. Volunteers sampled their armpit flora on a routine day of normal product usage, 5 subsequent days when they stopped using product, and then the next 2 days after they resumed their product routine. As we did for Belly Button Biodiversity, we plated the pit microbes and used non-culture dependent methods, sequencing 16S rRNA.

Since PitStart, we’ve sampled and sequenced the armpit microbes of 20 additional volunteers and have initiated collaborations with the North Carolina Zoo to sample non-human primates, including chimpanzees, baboons, and gorillas.

We are combing through the data and are in the process of analyzing and writing up the results from these early studies. So far we’ve found that the use of underarm product (antiperspirant and deodorant) has one of strongest effects yet seen on the composition of the skin microbiome, especially when compared to other factors like gender and soap usage (Urban et. al 2014, in prep). We’re also comparing our skin microbiome to that of non-human primates; our work is the first of its kind to study the skin microbiome of non-human primates using non-culture dependent methods (Council et. al 2014, in prep).

We’re not soliciting samples from the public right now, but stay tuned here for ways you can get involved in our future work. In the meantime, check out what Rob Dunn has to say about how mammals use the eau de bacteria created in their apocrine glands to chemically communicate with one another.

Welcome to what lives in your armpit!

Below are a few sample nutrient agar plates (nutritious jello for microbes) that have been inoculated with armpit swabs from participants who have gone two days without wearing antiperspirant or deodorant. After swabbing the plates, we then incubated the plates for two to five days. Some plates were incubated at 30°C and others at 37°C. Why is that? Some of the wildlife on your body prefer and can grow better at temperatures a little lower than yours (human body temp is 37°C). Look below and discover the diversity of microbes that live in our armpits!

People

Sarah Council, Post-doc, NC Museum of Natural Sciences and NC Central University
Julie Horvath-Roth, Director, Genomics & Microbiology Research Laboratory, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Julie Urban, Assistant Director, Genomics & Microbiology Laboratory, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Dan Fergus, Post-doc

Project Publications

Council SE, Savage AM, Urban JM, Ehlers ME, Skene JHP, Platt ML, Dunn RR, Horvath JE. (2016) Diversity and evolution of the primate skin microbiome. Proc. R. Soc. B 283: 20152586. View PDF.

Urban J, Fergus DJ, Savage AM, Ehlers M, Menninger HL, Dunn RR, Horvath JE. (2016) The effect of habitual and experimental antiperspirant and deodorant product use on the armpit microbiome. PeerJ 4:e1605 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1605

In the Press

Antiperspirant Alters the Microbial Ecosystem on Your Skin

NC State News February 2, 2016 – Features research from the Armpit Microbes project.