Often I think we as scientist do a really good job of convincing ourselves that our work is important. However, our research rarely makes a big enough splash that a study is widely accepted by everyone as awesome. Trust me, I have recently tried to excitedly explain to a non scientist at a party why finding the recessive mutation behind disliking cilantro was sooooo cool. It didn’t work…
But this study is so cool that it has already blown up the blogosphere. So much so that I was considering posting on an awesome new review by two of my favorite researchers out of the UK (if you haven’t read this yet you should. Also check out Britt Koskella’s blog… it’s pretty awesome). But being a roller derby skater myself (Rolling Hills Derby Dames), I decided I couldn’t let such an awesome study go by without posting about it.
At the moment, the field of microbial ecology is going from big to huge. This is partially due to the inexpensive availability of genome data making it possible to asses the frequency and species of microbes within all sorts of environments. It could also be due to the immediate applicability to human health, as the composition of the microbiome has been linked to obesity, bacterial vaginosis and potentially irritable bowel syndrome.
These communities vary across different parts of the body and individuals, and change over time. And although we know quite a bit about how pathogens can be passed from person to person due to contact, not much is known about the effect contact has on the microbiome.
Meadow et al. (2013) set out to change that. And here we have to enter the viscously awesome world of roller derby. In derby, women on quad skates skate around a ovular track. Each team has one “Jammer” who scores points by skating past all the other women on the track. The other 8 women (4 from each team) try to aid their Jammer past the other skaters, while preventing the other team’s Jammer from getting through. Points are scored for every skater on the opposing team a Jammer passes. Oh and the only way you can prevent a Jammer from passing is by using your body to block her or hit her out of bounds. It’s a full contact sport… on skates. Pretty intense.
This study is cool for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that it involves roller derby, which is by it’s nature cool. Additionally it shows how important contact is for the microbiome, which in turn could predict certain health outcomes. So I’ll be keeping an eye out for more awesome microbiome studies in the coming months as this field continues to progress at an alarming rate.
Meadow et al. (2013), Signiﬁcant changes in the skin microbiome mediated by the sport of roller derby. PeerJ
1:e53; DOI 10.7717/peerj.53