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You Don’t Even Want to Know About All the Stuff Living on Your Eyeball

Even eyes can’t escape the microbiome

Nope nope nope. (Tetra Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

By some estimates all the bacteria and fungi and archaea and other wee beasties that make up the human microbiome either match the number of your human cells or outnumber them 100 to 1. But some scientists thought there were safe spots, microbial no-go zones. Chief among these, the surface of your eyeball.

For the squeamish among us, it would have been nice to think that human eyes were free of the influence of teeny tiny creatures. It's like, sure, fine, have sex on my face, weird face mites. Explode on my skin, spewing your entire life's worth of excrement into my pores. Just leave my eyes out of it.

But there was also a scientific reason to hope. Around five years ago, says The Scientist, “[c]onventional wisdom at that time held that healthy eyes don’t harbor much microbial life—tears and blinking tend to clear away foreign objects, including bacteria.”

As it turns out, no. There's all sorts of stuff crawling on your eyeball. Recent research showed, says The Scientist, “that about a dozen bacterial genera dominated the eye’s conjunctiva, a third of which could not be classified. On the corneal surface, the researchers found a slightly different community. Again, about a dozen genera dominated. And everywhere they’ve looked, the researchers have found more than just bacteria.”

Bacteria, viruses and phages abound. Oh, one more thing, says The Scientist: “Researchers believe contact lenses make it easier for pathogens to colonize the surface of the eye by giving the bacteria something to adhere to.”

Sorry, germophobes.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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