A diversity profile of the human skin microbiota

Genome Res. 2008 Jul;18(7):1043-50. doi: 10.1101/gr.075549.107. Epub 2008 May 23.


The many layers and structures of the skin serve as elaborate hosts to microbes, including a diversity of commensal and pathogenic bacteria that contribute to both human health and disease. To determine the complexity and identity of the microbes inhabiting the skin, we sequenced bacterial 16S small-subunit ribosomal RNA genes isolated from the inner elbow of five healthy human subjects. This analysis revealed 113 operational taxonomic units (OTUs; "phylotypes") at the level of 97% similarity that belong to six bacterial divisions. To survey all depths of the skin, we sampled using three methods: swab, scrape, and punch biopsy. Proteobacteria dominated the skin microbiota at all depths of sampling. Interpersonal variation is approximately equal to intrapersonal variation when considering bacterial community membership and structure. Finally, we report strong similarities in the complexity and identity of mouse and human skin microbiota. This study of healthy human skin microbiota will serve to direct future research addressing the role of skin microbiota in health and disease, and metagenomic projects addressing the complex physiological interactions between the skin and the microbes that inhabit this environment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Skin / microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S