Athletic equipment microbiota are shaped by interactions with human skin

Americans spend the vast majority of their lives in built environments. Even traditionally outdoor pursuits, such as exercising, are often now performed indoors. Bacteria that colonize these indoor ecosystems are primarily derived from the human microbiome. The modes of human interaction with indoor surfaces and the physical conditions associated with each surface type determine the steady-state ecology of the microbial community.

Bacterial assemblages associated with different surfaces in three athletic facilities, including floors, mats, benches, free weights, and elliptical handles, were sampled every other hour (8 am to 6 pm) for 2 days. Surface and equipment type had a stronger influence on bacterial community composition than the facility in which they were housed. Surfaces that were primarily in contact with human skin exhibited highly dynamic bacterial community composition and non-random co-occurrence patterns, suggesting that different host microbiomes-shaped by selective forces-were being deposited on these surfaces through time. However, bacterial assemblages found on the floors and mats changed less over time, and species co-occurrence patterns appeared random, suggesting more neutral community assembly.

These longitudinal patterns highlight the dramatic turnover of microbial communities on surfaces in regular contact with human skin. By uncovering these longitudinal patterns, this study promotes a better understanding of microbe-human interactions within the built environment.

PMID: 26113975