Archaea on Human Skin

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 12;8(6):e65388. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065388. Print 2013.


The recent era of exploring the human microbiome has provided valuable information on microbial inhabitants, beneficials and pathogens. Screening efforts based on DNA sequencing identified thousands of bacterial lineages associated with human skin but provided only incomplete and crude information on Archaea. Here, we report for the first time the quantification and visualization of Archaea from human skin. Based on 16 S rRNA gene copies Archaea comprised up to 4.2% of the prokaryotic skin microbiome. Most of the gene signatures analyzed belonged to the Thaumarchaeota, a group of Archaea we also found in hospitals and clean room facilities. The metabolic potential for ammonia oxidation of the skin-associated Archaea was supported by the successful detection of thaumarchaeal amoA genes in human skin samples. However, the activity and possible interaction with human epithelial cells of these associated Archaea remains an open question. Nevertheless, in this study we provide evidence that Archaea are part of the human skin microbiome and discuss their potential for ammonia turnover on human skin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Archaea / metabolism
  • Azides
  • Base Sequence
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Microbiota / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phylogeny*
  • Propidium / analogs & derivatives
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Skin / microbiology*


  • Azides
  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • propidium monoazide
  • Propidium
  • Ammonia

Grant support

Funding provided by the Institute for Microbiology and Archaea Center (Michael Thomm), the University of Regensburg and the European Space Agency (Contract No. 4000103794/11/NL/PA under subcontract with DLR (D/316/67130713)) is acknowledged. AJP was supported by the National German Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.