Monday Micro – roller derby micro!

By Siouxsie Wiles 18/03/2013

There were a smorgasbord of micro stories to choose from this week, but how could I pass up a story which combines microbes, open access and gorgeous women on roller skates?!

James Meadow and colleagues, from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Oregon, have just published a paper looking at the effect of contact sports on the microbial communities living on the skin of the participants. This is where the roller skates come into the story, as the contact sport James and his colleagues studied was roller derby*.

This great picture by Emily Thomas AKA Mummy'sLittleMonster sums up roller derby perfectly!
This great picture by Emily Thomas AKA Mummy’sLittleMonster sums up roller derby perfectly!

James’ paper is one of the first to be published in new online open access journal PeerJ which launched recently. More on this new journal below, but one feature I do want to point out is that authors can elect to make the review history of the article public, which James and his colleagues did. It makes for fascinating reading!

But back to the paper. James and colleagues hypothesised that close contact between people would create shifts in the microbial communities living on the skin. And that’s pretty much what they found. Here is a nice plot showing the microbial composition of the skin of each team member before and after playing. Each symbol represents a player, each colour represents a different team (they looked at three teams: the Emerald City Roller Girls, the DC Roller Girls and the Silicon Valley Roller Girls) and the coloured ellipses show the standard deviations around the community variances from each team. Before they started, the skin microbiomes of members of each team clustered nicely together – presumably because they train together and therefore often come into contact with each other. After playing you can see that the skin microbiomes have changed and become much more similar between the teams – they’ve shared their microbes!

Variation in skin microbial community composition is significantly explained by team identity.
Variation in skin microbial community composition is significantly explained by team identity.

The authors concluded that:

“contact sports provide an ideal setting in which to evaluate dispersal of microorganisms between people.”

Certainly looks that way!

Meadow et al. (2013) Significant changes in the skin microbiome mediated by the sport of roller derby. PeerJ 1:e53

Conflict of interest statement: I am a PeerJ academic editor but did not handle or review this manuscript.

* For details see the official Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rules. Two competing teams, each composed of up to 4 ‘blockers’ and 1 ‘jammer’, simultaneously circle the track while the jammers, who start behind the pack, try to score points by lapping players of the opposing side. The catch is that the blockers can use their bodies (arms from shoulder to elbow, torso, hips, booty** and legs from mid to mid to upper thigh) to try to stop the jammers from lapping the pack. There is some great footage of some teams in action on You Tube:

**Official WFTDA nomenclature..

***PeerJ was founded by Peter Binfield (formerly at PLOS ONE) and Jason Hoyt (formerly at Mendeley) and is backed by O’Reilly Media. PeerJ aims to be a biological and biomedical version of PLOS ONE, with papers judged solely on their scientific and methodological soundness, rather than potential ‘impact’,. Like PLOS ONE, PeerJ papers are freely available to read and published under a Creative Commons licence which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Like PLOS ONE the costs are covered by the researcher but in the form of membership fees per author, rather than article processing charges. a one off payment of $99 allows an author to publish one paper per year for life, while $299 allows an author unlimited publications per year.

0 Responses to “Monday Micro – roller derby micro!”

  • That’s some seriously old footage. Looks like 2009 to me. The rules have changed a little bit over time and there’s a fair bit more contact now than the video depicts. It’s not uncommon to see skater’s numbers (often written with a sharpie on their arms) smeared across other skaters’ arms, shoulders, and occasionally faces.

    Coincidentally, RCRD is hosting Pirate City (the home league of the ref with the face paint) this weekend at TSB. See microbial transmission in action! (Sorta)