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“Would you chop your vegetables on your toilet seat? I think pretty much all of us would say No. But maybe we should think again.”

So writes the BBC’s Charlotte Pritchard in her article Is the toilet seat really the dirtiest place in the home?. According to Prof Charles Gerba* of the University of Arizona, it most certainly is not. With the average toilet seat harbouring around 50 bacteria per square inch, much more dangerous is the humble kitchen cloth with a million bacteria per square inch. If you want to see just where all the microbes in your home are likely to be lurking, check out this fabulous infographic on the Hygiene Council’s website. And in case you thought you were safe at work, a recent paper by Gerba and colleagues published in PLOS One (open access, yay!) sampled 90 randomly chosen offices in three different office buildings in New York, San Francisco and Tucson [1]. Their findings?

- Surfaces in men’s offices were consistently more contaminated than those from women’s offices
- Chairs and phones were the most contaminated of the surfaces tested
- Offices in San Francisco tended to be less contaminated than those in New York or Tucson

Another recent paper (again PLOS One and hence open access, yay!) explored the microbes present in another environment of significance to us [2]. As the authors put it:

“The belly button is one of the habitats closest to us, and yet it remains relatively unexplored.”

Until now! Robert Dunn has been getting people to send him swabs of their belly buttons in his ‘Belly Button Biodiversity’ citizen science project. The upshot? The richness of bacterial life in human belly buttons compares to that of the biodiversity found in rainforests! One participant, who admitted having not showered or bathed for several years, was home to several ‘extremophile’ bacteria not previously reported to live on human skin.

And finally, in more serious news, doctors are celebrating the development of a vaccine against one of the commonest causes of meningitis, meningococcal group B disease, known as MenB. The European Medicines Agency have apparently just given the vaccine, Bexsero, a ‘positive opinion’ and now have 60-90 days to decide whether to grant a licence.

References:
1. Hewitt KM, Gerba CP, Maxwell SL, Kelley ST (2012) Office Space Bacterial Abundance and Diversity in Three Metropolitan Areas. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37849. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037849
2. Hulcr J, Latimer AM, Henley JB, Rountree NR, Fierer N, et al. (2012) A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable. PLoS ONE 7(11): e47712. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047712

*As an amusing aside, Prof Gerba lists his appearance in numerous** Who’s Who publications. This is presumably to impress, but these publications have apparently been referred to by Tucker Carlson as the “The Hall of Lame”. His argument: the selection process is neither rigorous nor meaningful, people can self nominate and thousands of people not particularly notable are included. The publisher seems to make money by selling tat (sorry, ‘personalised keepsakes’) to those who want to celebrate the ‘achievement’ of being listed. Carlson claims the publisher also makes money selling details of those included to direct mail marketers.

**Who’s Who in Technology Today, 1984, 1986, 1989; International Who’s Who in American Education, 1992-1993, 1995, 1996-1997;Who’s Who in the West, 1987-present; Who’s Who in Emerging Leaders in America, 1989-1990, 1991-1992; Who’s Who in the World, 1989-1995-present; American Men & Women of Science, 1992-1993, 1996-1997-present; Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, 1992-1993, 1996-1997; Who’s Who in America, 1994 – present; Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, 1997-1998-present.